Friday, May 24, 2013

Philippines sending unarmed Navy ships to Ayungin Shoal

At least three Chinese ships and 10 fishing boats were seen within the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal last Wednesday despite the diplomatic protest filed by the Philippines against China’s intrusion in the area.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that the vessels were spotted by security forces that conducted surveillance operations at about 5 a.m.

“We saw a frigate. We saw CMS (Chinese maritime surveillance) maritime ships. We have pictures and we have sent them to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA),” Gazmin said in a press briefing.

“Based on [the photos] that I saw yesterday, there were two CMS and one frigate,” he added.

Gazmin added that about 10 fishing boats or dinghies were also seen in the area, which is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

He said the deployment of a Chinese military frigate to the area is “unusual.”

“As far as we're concerned, it (Ayungin) is not a disputed (area). It’s ours,” the defense chief said.

Meanwhile, Gazmin said that the military will not send additional ships to the shoal but the resupply mission to the Filipino contingent in the area will go on as scheduled.

"We will be using an unarmed Navy ship for our resupply and replenishment missions to our forces there," he said.

The Filipino contingent in the shoal are in BRP Sierra Madre, a landing ship tank which ran aground off the Shoal several years back.

Ayungin Shoal is 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan and forms part of the 200 nautical miles of the Philippine continental shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group off Palawan and is one of the areas occupied by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea, the subject of a territorial row in the region.

Last week, a Chinese ship harassed a utility boat of Kalayaan Island town with 147 civilians that included the group of town mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.

Bito-onon claimed that the Chinese vessel started chasing the Queen Seagull utility boat while they were passing by the Ayungin Shoal.

The mayor said the Chinese vessel, which came from the eastern side of the shoal, used its powerful floodlights and sailed toward their boat several times. The Chinese warship reportedly came as close as 50 meters to their boat.

The chase, which reportedly lasted for about an hour, ended when the Queen Seagull reached the area around Half Moon Shoal, where a Chinese gunboat got stuck last year.

On Tuesday, the DFA announced that the Philippines had filed a protest against the illegal deployment of Chinese vessels around the Ayungin Shoal

The protest, which was filed last May 10, complained about the provocative presence of two CMS and one warship around the area.

The Philippines has asked China to respect its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its continental shelf.

“China’s interference with the sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea is a violation of international law,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a press conference last Tuesday.

China claims virtually the entire West Philippine Sea while the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the area.-The Philippine Star

Malaysia arrests top opposition figures for sedition

Student activist Adam Adli escorted by police at a courthouse in Kuala Lumpur on 23 May 2013
Malaysian police have arrested three prominent opposition figures, including Keadilan party vice-President Tian Chua, under the Sedition Act.

A student has also been charged with sedition over his call for protests against alleged election fraud.

Tensions have been high following the 5 May elections, where the ruling coalition secured a simple majority.

It was Barisan Nasional 's worst election result ever, securing just 46.6% of the popular vote.

The government said that the elections were free and fair, but the Anwar Ibrahim-led opposition said the results were marred by fraud, alleging multiple irregularities.

The opposition have held several rallies around the country to protest, drawing crowds.

'Politically-motivated prosecution'

Right after his contentious victory in the recent general election Prime Minister Najib Razak made an appeal for national reconciliation, the BBC's Southeast Asia correspondent Jonathan Head reports.

The prospects for that, never promising, have now collapsed following the arrest of such a prominent opposition politician, our correspondent adds.

On his Twitter feed, Tian Chua said he was detained as he was about to board a flight. He urged Malaysians not to be "overtaken by fear", but to "continue to assemble peacefully & have faith".

Opposition activists Haris Ibrahim and Tamrin Ghafar are also being held by police.

There are also reports of police raiding newspaper offices and seizing opposition newspapers.

In a statement, the Keadilan party called for the "immediate release of Tian Chua and Haris" and an end to the "politically-motivated prosecution" of opposition and activists.

Mr Najib's "talk of a national reconciliation after the recent elections... has proven to be meaningless," it said.

Meanwhile, Adam Adli was arrested earlier this month after he reportedly told members of a public forum to "go down to the streets to seize back our power", AP news agency reported.

The 24-year-old pleaded not guilty to the charge at a Kuala Lumpur court, and was released on bail on Thursday. If found guilty, he faces up to three years in jail.

Activists have argued that Malaysia's sedition law is used to stifle dissent.

"The [sedition] law is open to abuse," Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Mr Adli's lawyer, told AFP news agency.

"It's an infringement to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly."

In a statement on Wednesday, human rights group Amnesty International called for Mr Adli's "unconditional release" and said that the Sedition Act "has been implemented over the years to repress political dissent".

Prime Minister Najib Razak said in July 2012 that the government would seek to repeal Malaysia's sedition law, replacing it with a National Harmony Act. However, the law is currently still in force.-British Broadcasting Corporation

Crane driver mistake plunges Vietnam into darkness

Electricity workers in Vietnam
A mistake by a crane operator caused a 10-hour blackout over about a third of Vietnam and parts of neighbouring Cambodia, officials say.

Vietnamese state electricity company EVN said in a statement that the blackout happened on Wednesday after the operator knocked a tree down.

It fell onto the main north-south high voltage power transmission line.

Electricity supplies in Ho Chi Minh City and in Phnom Penh were affected before power was restored on Thursday.

About 22 of Vietnam's 63 provinces were blacked out, officials say, and most of the south-east of the country was without power.

Officials say it was one of the worst power cuts in Vietnam's history.

Vietnam provides Cambodia with about 40% of its national electricity supplies.

Local media in Phnom Penh said that the entire length of the city's popular riverfront area lay in darkness, as crowded restaurants served tourists by candlelight and water supplies - that rely on electricity - began to dry up.

Correspondents say that the outage caused scores of garment and seafood factories to close and exposed the fragility of Vietnam's power grid.

In addition there were heavy traffic jams in many other cities and towns as traffic lights failed.

Traffic jams

Vietnamese state-owned newspaper Thanh Nien reported that the incident cost EVN $700,000 (£465,000) in lost revenue.

It is widely acknowledged that Vietnam's power generation sector needs modernising.

Last year the chairman of the independent US federal agency Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) pushed for infrastructure deals worth $1.5bn related to satellite communication, thermal power and renewable energy.

EVN has a power supply monopoly in Vietnam, but has been criticised for frequent power cuts in many parts of the capital Hanoi as temperatures soar to 40C.

Last year the EVN chairman was fired for enormous losses incurred by the company.-British Broadcasting Corporation

'Asia tension could lead to conflict' - Foreign Affairs Sec del Rosario

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario warned on Thursday that territorial rows in Asia are "causing considerable tension that could lead to conflict" as several countries face off with China over island claims.

Speaking at a Tokyo business conference, Del Rosario said China's "nine-dash line claim encompassing almost the entire South China Sea" is "excessive."

"In addition to the South China Sea, we have in Northeast Asia, home to Asia's biggest economic powerhouses, several disputes that have adversely affected relations between and among Japan, China and the Republic of Korea.

"The competing territorial and maritime disputes are causing considerable tension that could lead to conflict," he warned.

China is believed to be boosting its naval capability in the Pacific and has been criticized by neighbors for what is seen as an increasingly aggressive stance in the region, particularly in its multiple territorial disputes.

Chinese maritime surveillance vessels have been frequently spotted in the 12-nautical-mile zone off the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyus, in the East China Sea since Tokyo nationalized three of the outcrops in September.

China says it has sovereign rights over nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters far away from its main landmass and approaching the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea, and the area has for decades been regarded as a potential trigger for major military conflict in the region.

All claimants, except Brunei, have troops stationed on various islands and atolls in the Spratlys -- the biggest archipelago in the sea -- to assert their claims.-Interaksyon

Singapore economy surprises with 1.8% growth in Q1

Singapore on Thursday reported a surprise expansion in its economy in the first quarter, helped by a surge in financial services.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expanded 1.8 percent in January-March on a quarter-on-quarter, seasonally adjusted and annualised rate, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).

The figure is much better than the government's advanced estimate of a 1.4 percent contraction.

Year-on-year, the Singapore economy grew by 0.2 percent in Q1, much better than the government's flash estimate of a 0.6 percent contraction.

Stronger performance in the finance and insurance sector spurred Singapore's economy in the first quarter.

The sector recorded a 50.6 percent quarterly growth to about S$10.2 billion in Q1, partly supported by a rise in trading of equities and foreign exchange.

Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) deputy managing director, Ong Chong Tee, said: "We've seen some pickup in general investment banking, wealth management activities, so fees and commission for example have grown quite strongly in the first quarter.

"As a whole, as long as the global environment remains fairly 'risk-on' for example, we think financial sector activity should continue to hold up for the rest of the year. But...because it is sentiment-sensitive, that number can be fairly volatile in terms of financial sector activities."

The services sector, which accounted for 70 percent of Singapore's economy, grew 7.9 percent on-quarter. This helped to mitigate the 12.3 percent contraction in manufacturing.

Meanwhile, MTI says the outlook for the electronics sector is positive as global recovery continues.

The construction sector grew by 16.5 percent on-quarter, reversing a 3.9 percent contraction in the previous quarter, boosted by a strong rebound in private sector building activities.

Looking ahead, MTI said Singapore's economic growth should "improve gradually" for the rest of the year in tandem with an expected rise in global demand for exports, supported by domestic drivers such as the construction and services sectors.

It kept its growth forecast at 1.0-3.0 percent this year, barring downside risks.

"Fiscal uncertainties in the US remain with the failure of Congress to raise the debt ceiling, while the eurozone is prone to a potential flare-up of the sovereign debt crisis," MTI said in its statement.

"Other uncertainties include the risk of an escalation in regional geopolitical tensions and a possible outbreak of respiratory viruses."

Despite the surprise expansion in Q1, some economists said there are still some concerns.

Selena Ling, head of Treasury Research & Strategy at OCBC, said: "What really didn't change is that we still have a tight labour market, unemployment rate still remains low, labour productivity still remain in contraction territory.

"So, no sign of celebration yet as far as the productivity push is concerned. And, I think, so far the wage cost element is fairly muted.

"But going forward, I think the foreign manpower curbs are really going to hurt."

In April, headline inflation rose by 1.5% year-on-year, the lowest in nearly three years.

This was due largely to falling car prices.

The cost of transportation, which has an index weighting of 16%, gained 0.5% in April from a year earlier due to a fall in the average price of the Certificate of Entitlement (COE).

The average price of COEs has fallen about 25% from its peak, according to MAS' Mr Ong.

Meanwhile, the MAS said core inflation - which excludes housing and private transportation costs - could pick up as a result of economic restructuring efforts and potential increase in wages.

The central bank expects core inflation to come in at the higher end of 2 percent towards the end of the year.

For the full year, MAS expects headline inflation to hover at 3 to 4 percent and between 1.5 and 2.5 percent for core inflation.-Channel News Asia

Thursday, May 23, 2013

All Indonesia mine bodies retrieved

Rescuers on Wednesday recovered the last of 28 miners killed last week when an underground room of a giant Indonesian gold and copper mine collapsed, the operator of the U.S.-owned facility said.

Thirty-eight workers had been undergoing safety training inside the Big Gossan facility in the province of Papua when the roof collapsed May 14. Ten injured miners were rescued.

A statement from PT Freeport Indonesia said its 200-member Emergency Response Team worked around-the-clock in narrow tunnels and loose rock before finally recovering and identifying the last victim early Wednesday.-Japan Times

Sabah conflict has 'no bearing' on Malaysia-Philippines trade ties, say traders

With a recent meeting between Malaysian traders and members of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Malaysia and the Philippines continue to develop investments with each other, despite recent occurrences that have strained political and diplomatic relations between the two countries.

"The growth in the Philippines is very strong and we see that it will continue to grow. The market size is also getting bigger, so we want some sort of investments from both countries," said Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers delegation head Adrian Yeo Eng Hui.

Relations between the two countries was tested when a group of followers of Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram III sailed to Sabah in February and engaged Malaysian security forces in armed conflict.

This conflict, however, “has no bearing” on trade relations between the two companies because companies make their dealings in Kuala Lumpur, said Yeo.

The Malaysian traders represent several sectors, including accounting, special purpose vehicles, industrial instruments and equipment, sporting goods, theme park equipment, automotive parts, rubber, laboratory/medical equipment, and freight forwarding.

Malaysian firms currently operating in the Philippines include Berjaya Philippines, Inc. and Resorts World Manila's Genting Bhd.-GMA News

Exiled Cambodian leader prays for democracy

An exiled Cambodian opposition leader says it's time for Australia to step up and play a bigger role in securing democracy in the country.

The opposition leader of Cambodia, Sam Rainsy, has called on Australia to do more to promote democracy in his country.  

Cambodia is scheduled to hold National elections in July, but opposition groups say they will not be free and fair unless Mr Rainsy is able to run.    

Mr Rainsy, who lives in exile in France to avoid prison, is barred from running in the polls due to a series of convictions that the opposition says are politically motivated.  

He's asking Australia to help the democratic process in Cambodia.  

"We look up to Australia as a model of democracy in the region, and we value Australia's leadership," says Mr Rainsy.

Mr Rainsy has survived assassination attempts and years of exile.

But his commitment to democracy has never waivered.

"It's an uphill battle. We have to fight against a powerful, a very powerful, force."

He says that's the desire of the Cambodian population in Australia, too.

Many came to Australia during the height of the Pol Pot regime and few thought they would ever see a dramatic political change in their homeland.

"No, I never thought it's like what we have here," says Darin Men at the Khmer Temple in Canberra.

But Cambodia's pro-democracy movement is growing.

Earlier this week, demonstrations in capital Phnom Pen drew 5000 protesters.

They called on the President to relinquish his authoritarian regime.

The Cambodian Ambassador in Canberra declined SBS's request for an interview. 

President Hun Sen has reaffirmed his commitment to holding a ballot in July in line with electoral laws.

Professor Benjamin Reilly was an electoral monitor in Cambodia's 1993 election.

He doubts July's election will be free from corruption.

"They've never been free and fair, there are very significant restrictions on opposition movements, a lot of intimidation. It's a long way from being a democracy," says Professor Reilly.

He wants the government to speak up about human rights in neighbouring countries.

"We don't have a very good track record on this one," he says.-World News Australia

Philippines weighs move on China incursion

The Philippines is weighing what course of action to take in the wake of the latest Chinese incursion in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) even as the country asserted its capability to defend its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday that it was already coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy to plan a response to the presence of Chinese military and fishing vessels around the Ayungin Shoal.

“We are assessing our options and no one should doubt our resolve to defend what is ours,” said DFA spokesman Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez.

He could not say if the Philippines would be sending any ships to the Ayungin Shoal, which the DFA has reiterated is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical miles continental shelf, being just 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan.

On May 10, the DFA filed a diplomatic protest with the Chinese Embassy in Manila to formally complain about the “provocative and illegal” presence of two Chinese maritime surveillance ships and one warship along with a fleet of some 30 fishing vessels near the shoal.

“As the President said, what is ours is ours and we will do everything to defend it,” said Hernandez.

He said the DFA was already discussing options with the Philippine Navy and the Coast Guard but refused to discuss the details.

Hernandez again cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) provision as the basis of the Philippines’ sovereignty rights over its EEZ, an area that overlaps with China’s nine-dash line claim which Manila has many times called an “excessive declaration” of maritime boundaries.

“In accordance with Unclos, only the Philippines has sovereign rights over the continental shelf and the EEZ in the area, where the Ayungin Shoal is located. No other state is lawfully entitled to assert sovereignty or sovereign rights over the area,” said Hernandez.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila has yet to comment on the issue.

China’s latest foray into Philippine maritime territory comes amid the government’s optimism about finally settling conflicts on maritime entitlements with Beijing through its arbitration case before the UN arbitral tribunal. The is hoping that the panel will begin tackling the merits of the case by July.

The legal action seeks to halt Chinese intrusions into the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf and to invalidate the nine-dash line, which includes almost all territories in the resource-rich West Philippine Sea under Chinese sovereignty.

The Armed Forces (AFP) on Wednesday said it will follow the policy set by the Aquino administration to “deescalate” the situation in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.

It said the military is limiting its operations to monitoring the reported presence of Chinese vessels in the disputed Kalayaan group in the Spratlys, particularly in Ayungin Shoal, which the Philippines has claimed.

AFP public affairs chief Maj. Ramon Zagala said the military “has been conducting maritime patrols by air” and reports to the its observations to the defense department.

“Our task at the moment, before anything else, is to support the peaceful resolution of our conflict in the Kalayaan Island Groups. The AFP supports the diplomatic actions or the protest by our government as a peaceful means to resolve the issue,” Zagala told reporters.

Asked if the AFP would send more ships to the Ayungin Shoal, Zagala replied:

“We are trying to deescalate the situation so that we follow the diplomatic solution. If we increase our presence there, then we are just going to escalate the situation. We will follow the solution our government wants. So our presence there is the same and we continue to monitor and follow whatever direction President Aquino will give us.”-Philippine Daily Inquirer

Office bullying video sparks outcry in Singapore

A Singapore company supervisor caught on video slapping a male intern is in trouble after the clip went viral on the web and sparked a public outcry.

Police confirmed to AFP that a complaint had been lodged against the supervisor, who works at a software company, and the manpower ministry said it had also been alerted about the alleged case of workplace abuse.

The 17-second "Singapore office bully" clip, first uploaded on the video-sharing website YouTube last Friday, showed the boss repeatedly slapping a younger man described by local media as a 29-year-old intern.

A fellow intern who filmed the video said in a posting at an online forum that he had noticed the supervisor "constantly bullying" his co-worker soon after starting his internship.

When he confronted the boss, the supervisor explained that "there is a story behind" the abuse.

"He said that my colleague apparently has an inferiority complex and apparently my supervisor is trying to 'nurture' him to get over it," he said.

"I felt this was stupid, as how can you nurture someone by hitting them? My co-worker is very timid and seems like the kind of guy that will not stand up for himself."

The Straits Times reported Wednesday that after the video went viral, two former interns in the same company also came out to say they had worked in fear under the supervisor.

Local Chinese-language newspaper Shin Min said the intern, a university graduate, was being paid Sg$500 ($400) a month and that his parents may seek compensation from the firm.-ABS-CBN News

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Japan to fast track coast guard vessels donation to the Philippines

The plan for Japan to provide coast guard patrol ships to the Philippines will be accelerated, according to Japanese officials. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario are expected to sign the final plan at their meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Manila formally requested 10 coast guard patrol ship from Japan last December. A fact-finding mission, which includes experts from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, was sent by the Japanese government this May to assess the situation. They will also work with officials in coming up with the equipment preferences and also devising with plans to operate the patrol ships once they are turned over. The delivery for the vessels are expected to begin by next fiscal year from April 2014. Each ship is expected to cost more than 1 billion yen (approx. 9.74 million dollars) and will be part of the official development assistance of Japan to the Philippines.

The fast-tracking of this plan is also due to the increasing activities of China in the South China Sea. The Philippines is currently involved in a territorial dispute over the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal. The ships and the plan being developed is to strengthen the capacity of the Philippine’s maritime police against possible actions by China over the row. Japan is considering providing assistance to Vietnam, who is also involved in a dispute with China over boundaries and territories in the maritime region as well.-Japan Daily Press

Myanmar court sentences seven Muslims to jail

A provincial court on Tuesday sentenced seven Muslims to prison for the death of a Buddhist monk in Myanmar during sectarian clashes that claimed 44 lives in March.

The Meiktila provincial court sentenced Myat Ko Ko to life for killing the monk and showing religious disrespect, defence lawyer Thein Than Oo said.

Three accomplices were sentenced to 14 years in jail, two got 10 years and a minor got seven, the lawyer said by phone.

On March 20, an altercation over the price of a hairpin in a Muslim-owned gold shop spiralled into a riot that left dozens dead and at least 8,000 homeless, most of them Muslims.

Authorities arrested 87 people for participating in the violence. Three Buddhists were sentenced to prison last month.

Myanmar’s Muslim community, accounting for about 5 per cent of the 60 million population accepted Tuesday’s verdict.

“We see this as a fair punishment but we want to know why some Buddhist monks involved in the violence have not been sentenced,” a senior member of Myanmar’s Islamic Religious Council said on condition of anonymity.

“In some TV footage, you can see what the monks did and this is the evidence what had happened in Meiktila,” he said.

Myanmar has seen several sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Muslim communities since the country emerged from five decades of military dictatorships in November 2010, when an election brought the nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein to power.-The Hindu News

Philippine-Indonesia Joint Naval Exercise starts

The navies of the Philippines and Indonesia formally commenced the joint civil-military exercise named Corpat-PHILINDO XXVII-13 Tuesday 9May 21) in a simple ceremony at the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao Headquarters in Camp Panacan. 

The exercises is aimed at improving the interoperability of both contingents in guarding their respective territorial waters in the Celebes Sea against terrorism, smuggling and illegal fishing. 

Captain Severino David, deputy commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command said the joint civil-military exercise would be preceded with friendship basketball game Tuesday afternoon. 

He said on Wednesday naval vessels of the Philippines and Indonesia would sail for Sarangani Island in Davao del Sur to conduct a medical- dental outreach program. 

David said that on Thursday, both contingents will proceed to Marore Island the first islet of Indonesia near the border to conduct the same activity for the Indonesian residents there. 

“We’ll be conducting medical-dental assistance to the Filipinos and Indonesian in these areas,” he said. 

David said that in returning home, the Philippines will also fetch three Filipinos arrested for illegal fishing in the Indonesian waters. 

He said the Philippine Navy will bring the three Filipino to G’lan, Sarangani Province for processing at the Bureau of Immigration Office. 

David said the joint exercise will involve two naval vessels and one airplane. 

He said through the respective naval forces, Philippines and Indonesia have been working together to address the issues like terrorism and smuggling of illegal drugs. 

Lt. Colonel Ardiansyah Muqsit, military attach├ę of Indonesia said both navies will conduct communication exercise and replenishment of logistics at sea. 

He said the border-crossing agreement between Indonesia and the Philippines is working smoothly to ensure the entry of fishermen from both sides without getting arrested. 

Ardiansyah affirmed that the joint exercise will strengthen ties of both countries on their respective stance against terrorism and transnational crimes. 

“We cannot allow anyone to bring guns and drugs to Indonesia from the Philippines or vice versa. We will also run after undocumented fishermen who conduct fishing expedition in our territory,” he said.-Philippine Information Agency

ASEAN governments urged to plug loopholes in tobacco promo curbs

Noting loopholes in measures curbing tobacco promotions across the region, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) has called on all ASEAN governments to strictly ban all advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of tobacco products. It said only comprehensive efforts by national governments can prevent the gaps from being exploited by the tobacco industry.

Most governments in the region have laws to limit access to tobacco products but these are not comprehensive enough, and do not yet completely meet requirements under the commitments set out in Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), said SEATCA.

Bungon Ritthiphakdee, SEATCA director, said, "While we have made progress in the region, however there is still room for the tobacco industry to communicate directly with young people. The loopholes must be plugged."

Ritthiphakdee said the tobacco industry is "resorting to tactics to circumvent laws and policies, to promote their toxic products, particularly to our women and children." She noted that, “Southeast Asia is the tobacco industry cash cow, and companies such as Philip Morris International (PMI) salivate when expanding its market in our region. Most unfortunately for our people especially the young, they have tagged Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand as growth opportunities in the ASEAN. PMI’s gain is our loss – more disease and death for us.”

The FCTC is a global treaty to which all ASEAN countries, except for Indonesia, are parties. The treaty outlines goals and objectives to which parties are committed, all with the view of curbing tobacco use. Article 13 of the FCTC recognizes that only "comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) would reduce the consumption of tobacco products", and should therefore be pursued by all parties.

In particular, Ms. Ritthiphakdee said ASEAN government officials and leaders must address policy and legal loopholes in these critical areas:

1. Tobacco pack display at points-of-sale (POS): In the ASEAN region, only Thailand and Brunei have put in place laws to totally restrict the visibility of tobacco products at points-of-sale, such as shops fronts, grocery and convenience store counters.

2. Tobacco industry related Corporate social responsibility (CSR): In practically all countries in the entire ASEAN, tobacco companies sponsor CSR activities to buy public goodwill to associate their corporate name with good works . Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos have no bans whatsoever on these types of CSR.

3.Cross-border promotions:  Only Singapore and Cambodia have cross-border advertising bans. Malaysia has a partial ban, while Thailand still allows live telecasts from neighboring countries that let harmful tobacco messages to reach its people. The rest of the region has no policy to recognize that this gaping loophole can be used by the tobacco industry to target anyone anywhere, regardless of national laws.

4.Social media. Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have total bans on the use of social media platforms to promote tobacco use.  Despite bans in Malaysia, there are still groups and individuals uploading images of cigarette brands, packs, all targeting the youth. This should be considered direct advertising of cigarettes. A comprehensive ban on TAPS should cover such online advertising and all social media, the main communication medium of the young.

"Given the nature of our cross-border economies, the power of new media, and the marketing and lobbying prowess of the tobacco industry, the governments of ASEAN have no choice but to close ranks behind efforts to stop the promotion of tobacco products," she added.

SEATCA called on the ASEAN governments to step up bans on TAPS and "Take action now!" as SEATCA launched a booklet on the WHO FCTC Article 13, (soft copy here: ahead of the celebration of World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on May 31.  The theme of this year's WNTD is precisely, "Ban Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship.”-Interaksyon

Philippines Files Diplomatic Protest Vs China's 'provocative, Illegal Presence' In Ayungin Reef

The Philippine government has protested a 'provocative and illegal presence' of two Chinese surveillance vessels and a military ship within its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

Manila also called on Beijing to respect Manila’s sovereignty over its waters.

THe Philippines says two Chinese maritime surveillance ships and a warship have been spotted off Ayungin Shoal, which Manila says is within its territorial waters.

The Chinese ships appear to have accompanied some 30 fishing vessels from China, which are scattered around Ayungin Shoal, the Kalayaan Island Group and the Mischief Reef - a rich fishing ground within Philippine territory.

“On May 10, 2013, we  filed with the Chinese Embassy in Manila our protest on the provocative and illegal presence of the Chinese government ships around Ayungin Shoal,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said. “Ayungin Shoal is an integral part of our national territory.”

The shoal is located 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan and constitutes part of the country’s 200-nautical mile continental shelf as provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

UNCLOS is a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states. The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty.

The Chinese fishing vessels continue to roam around the Philippine waters, Hernandez said.

It was not clear if the vessels are part of the Chinese flotilla of fishing crafts that were deployed early this month.

“We have already sent communications (to China) on this,” Hernandez said. “We have already told them our position regarding these vessels which have intruded into our exclusive economic zone. The resources in our EEZs are meant for the Filipino people.”

This is not the first time that China has been accused of encroaching in Philippine waters. China has stationed government vessels in the Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, another Philippine-claimed feature in the West Philippine Sea where Manila and Beijing figured in a tense standoff last year. China has prevented Filipino fishermen from gaining access into the shoal's vast lagoon.

The South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), a strategic waterway where a bulk of the world's trade pass and believed to be rich in oil and natural gas, has been a source of conflict among competing claimants - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, China and Taiwan. Analysts feared the competing claims could spark a military conflict in the region.

China claims the waters nearly in its entirety, citing historical entitlements as the basis for its huge claim, which Manila branded as “excessive and a violation of international law.”

The Philippines has challenged this claim before a United Nations tribunal, where a resolution is pending.-Interaksyon (May 21, 2013)

Death toll in in Indonesia tunnel collapse rises to 21

Rescuers used a ground support split set and welded mesh to prevent rockfalls during their rescue and recovery work.
The death toll from a tunnel collapse last week at an underground mine training facility in Indonesia has risen to 21 after emergency workers recovered more bodies from the rubble, the mining company said Tuesday.

A further seven people remain unaccounted for, according to PT Freeport Indonesia, which mines gold, copper and silver in the region.

Rescuers had managed to save 10 people from the accident, which occurred on May 14 about 500 meters from the entrance of the Big Gossan Mine. The facility is in the eastern Indonesian province of Papua.

The Indonesian government said a tunnel roof collapsed after a landslide.

Hundreds of current and former employees have joined prayer services for the victims in recent days, according to the mining company.

Freeport said it had appointed staff members to provide food, accommodation and transport to the family members of those affected.-Cable News Network

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Investors eye up industry potential in Vietnam

More local and foreign investors are seeking investment opportunities in Vietnam’s industrial, economic and export processing zones – underlining the need for these zones to improve their internal infrastructure.

The assessment was made by head of the Ministry of Planning and Investment's Foreign Investment Agency Do Nhat Hoang.

Over the past 20 years, industrial, economic and export processing zones have become an attractive destination for investors, especially foreign ones.

As of early this year, the country's 280 established industrial and export processing zones had drawn above US$64.8 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI), according to head of the ministry's Economic Zones Management Department Vu Dai Thang.

Over half of the total had been already disbursed. Annually, FDI deposited in these zones accounted for between 40 and 45 per cent of the total FDI registered in the country, he revealed.

Thang suggested the zones focus on attracting advanced technology projects as well as those that aimed to strengthen industrial links between the zones.

Coastal economic zones have also seen increased interest from investors, he said, attracting 144 foreign-invested projects with capital totalling $38.4 billion.

These projects take up 40 per cent of the zones' total area for industrial production, tourism and services, he added.

The export value of enterprises in industrial, economic and export processing zones accounted for 25-30 per cent of the national export turnover in recent years.

But despite these encouraging achievements, many zones still find it difficult to attract FDI.

Chairman of the Foreign-Invested Enterprises Association Nguyen Mai said the legal framework for managing and developing the zones remained incomplete, and preferential policies had been revised several times after their issuance, resulting in difficulties for investors.

Other reasons cited were inadequate infrastructure, a shortage of skilled workers and ineffective investment promotion programmes. -Cable News Network

Taiwan fighter jet crashes, 2nd in a week

A Taiwanese Mirage fighter jet has crashed into the sea off the island’s northwest coast, the second air force fighter to be lost in less than a week.

The air force said both Mirage pilots were rescued at sea Monday, after the plane ditched during a routine training mission.

Last Wednesday a Taiwanese F-16 also crashed into the sea during a routine training exercise, with no loss of life.

French-made Mirages and U.S.-made F-16s form the backbone of the Taiwanese air force, which for years held a qualitative advantage over its Chinese rival.

That advantage has now evaporated in the face of high levels of Chinese military spending, and Taiwanese difficulties in procuring top line jet fighters from the U.S.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949.-Asia Correspondent

Thailand's US$12b water management programme faces criticisms

Critics at the Second Asia Pacific Water Summit in Chiang Mai have taken aim at the Thai government's US$12 billion water management plan.

Academics and policy makers said the flood programme was expensive and unsound.

They said the plan does not factor in environmental or health impact assessments on flood prone areas, violating Thailand's constitution.

Thailand's Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi has hit back at the critics, referring to them as "garbage".

The minister has even swapped his suit and tie for the traditional dress of an ancient Thai king, famous for his water management programme.

His stunt, however, was described as inappropriate by his opponents.

In 2011, after Thailand's worst floods in half a century, the government drafted a massive US$11.8 billion plan to manage water resources.

The government said the comprehensive plan will bolster private sector confidence, after devastating floods in 2011 cost companies billions of dollars.

But others disagree, saying there needs to be much more local consultation and people's participation before moving ahead. 

Critics said the plan could irrevocably change vast areas of Thai farmland. 

Sasin Chalermlarp, secretary-general of the Seubnakasathien Foundation, said: "Water management is a massive undertaking, since we are talking about the alteration of the biodiversity in a vast area of the central plain (of Thailand), which has been transformed from natural fields to urban areas without any guidance."

The Thai government said assessments are being done, along with the bidding and planning, rather than before the start of the projects, as is standard practice. 

Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, Minister to the Office of the Prime Minister, said: "Another way is to conduct the EIA and HIA first, but this would be time consuming. It may take more than a year or two before we can open the bidding process.

"This way we could do it (the feasibility studies) in parallel with implementing the project. They (the private companies) will have to make assessments. They presented the price of the project, and they will be responsible. So we are not ignoring the assessment process." 

These crucial assessments provide a decision-making framework for developers and contractors, so that they can modify plans to safeguard against environmental dangers. 

But done at the same time, there is no room to adapt to what the assessments might say. Even a former member of the government's water management council has taken issue with the plan.

Utain Shartpinyo, former government advisor on water management, said: "The building of roads, dikes will involve communities from northern and central Thailand, encompassing vast areas and covering hundreds of kilometres. Problems will surely arise. Also, because these projects will be carried out by the private sector, this could create a loophole and conflict of interests between landowners and officials."

The bidding process on the mega project is moving forward, with winners slated to be announced next month.-Channel News Asia

Premier Li Keqiang's visit: India and China in border row pledge

Visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has said India and China must "improve mechanisms" to settle a long-running border dispute, pledging his commitment to "peace and tranquility".

Premier Li was speaking during a joint address with his Indian counterpart, PM Manmohan Singh, in the capital, Delhi.

Mr Singh said special representatives from the two countries would meet soon to discuss ways to end the row.

The meeting comes after a recent flare-up in border tensions.

Premier Li arrived in Delhi on Sunday in the first stop of his maiden foreign trip since taking office.

The two neighbours are the world's two most populous countries.

During Monday's talks, the two sides discussed trade ties and other bilateral issues and signed eight agreements.

"We don't deny there are problems between the two sides," Premier Li said. "We need to improve border related mechanisms and make them more efficient," he added.

"Both Mr Singh and I believe there are far more interests than differences between our two sides. We need to confront issues with a broad mind, and tackle them in a mature way," he said.

PM Singh said India and China had "agreed that our special representatives will meet soon to continue discussions seeking an early agreement on a framework for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable boundary settlement".

"Peace and tranquillity on our border has to be preserved," he said.

A decades-long border dispute flared up last month after India accused Chinese troops of crossing the countries' de facto frontier.

The dispute over the territory in the Ladakh region has dogged the two countries since the 1950s.

At an informal meeting on Sunday night, Mr Singh told Mr Li that a recent military standoff on the Himalaya border could affect relations between the two countries.

Both sides, however, were keen to ensure that the border spat did not derail a general warming in relations between the neighbours and the two leader talked of "more shared interests than differences".

China is already one of India's top trading partners and both countries have already agreed a new $100bn (£65bn) bilateral trade target for 2015.

Premier Li said he had agreed to address India's concerns about the size of the trade deficit with China.

On his arrival in Delhi, Premier Li said said his decision to choose India for his first foreign visit since taking office "indicates the great importance Beijing attaches to its relations" with Delhi.

During his three-day visit in India, he is also expected to meet Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi and leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha [the lower house of Indian parliament] Sushma Swaraj.

He is also scheduled to address university students in Delhi and business leaders in Mumbai, India's financial capital, before travelling on to Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany.-British Broadcasting Corporation

Barack Obama to host Burmese President Thein Sein

Thein Sein speaks at a town hall event at broadcast Voice of America's offices in Washington on 19 May 2013

President Thein Sein is to meet Barack Obama in Washington, in the first state visit by a Burmese leader since 1966.

The US said the visit showed commitment to helping "governments that make the important decision to embrace reform".

The US has hailed recent changes in the formerly military-ruled state, including the release of dissidents and relaxed censorship.

However, activists have raised concerns over the sustainability of the reforms and religious violence in Burma.

Thein Sein's invitation to the White House demonstrates Mr Obama's determination to keep building relations with the current government, despite warnings from human rights groups that he is making concessions too quickly, the BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head reports.

The US administration believes it needs to encourage the Burmese president to continue his reforms; it has suspended most but not all sanctions, our correspondent adds.

'More development'

Burma has launched a series of reforms since establishing a nominally civilian government in 2011, ending almost 50 years of military rule.

Thein Sein heads an administration that was elected in November 2010 in the country's first elections in two decades. The Aung San Suu Kyi-led opposition has a small presence in parliament after a landslide win in by-elections in April 2012 largely deemed free and fair.

Speaking at a forum at the office of US broadcaster Voice of America on Sunday, Thein Sein said US-Burma relations had "greatly improved thanks to the policies of President Obama".

"For our political reforms, we also need more economic development," he said.

He defended the allocation of 25% of seats in Burma's parliament to the military - something entrenched in the country's 2008 constitution.

"[The military] is a defensive force. You cannot deny their place in politics," he said.

International groups have also voiced concerns about serious religious violence in Burma in recent months.

At least 40 people were killed in anti-Muslim riots in central Burma last month, while widespread unrest in 2012 between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine state left nearly 200 people dead, and thousands of Rohingya Muslims displaced.

Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley said in a statement that he was "incredibly concerned about the facts on the ground in Burma, including human rights violations against ethnic nationalities".

Jennifer Quigley, from the US Campaign for Burma, said: "President Obama is sending the message that crimes against humanity by state forces against ethnic and religious minorities in Burma will be ignored by his administration."

Hundreds of political prisoners have been freed - more than 20 were pardoned prior to Thein Sein's trip. However, activists say that more remain behind bars, and have described the timing of the releases as "manipulative".

On Friday, Thein Sein's office director Zaw Htay denied that the government was using political prisoners as "tools".-British Broadcasting Corporation

Philippines, Taiwan in Simmering Dispute

The tensions between the Philippines and Taiwan continues to rise, a week after the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officer shot dead a Taiwanese fisherman for allegedly entering the territorial waters of the Philippines at the northern part of the archipelago.

While the whole nation is very busy with the ongoing elections last Monday, May 13, 2013 the incident that took place Friday, May 09 of the same year escaped from the lenses of the cameras of the local media. The story only came out on the television reports in the Philippines the day after the national election was successfully held. However, this was not yet given focus as many Filipinos are more interested to know who will be the next 12 senators that will lead their country. In the mean time, local media in Taiwan and Mainland China have already releases several reports that were accusing the Philippine Navy as the responsible body over the killing of the said fishermen. But the Philippine Navy immediately denied the accusation, saying that they don’t have any ship in the area when the shooting incident occurred. Later on, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) admitted the shooting but insisted that the act was just a self-defense. They said that a chase ensued for more than four (4) hours happened before the shooting incident takes place after one of the four (4) Taiwanese fishing vessels tried to ram their boat when they were attempting to board one of the vessels. Several shots were made by the coast guard using its on-board machine gun to disable the machinery of one of the fishing boats. Unfortunately, one of the bullets hit the neck of 65-year old Mr. Huang Shih-Cheng who was staying in the engine room and died.

News Agencies reports from both Taiwan and China have showed that the shooting incident occurred 43 nautical miles east of Balintang Island and 164 – 180 nautical miles from the nearest coastline of Taiwan.

Based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) any Island nation is allowed to claim Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that extends 200 nautical miles out from a nation’s territorial sea. This is what the Taiwan Government is keep on insisting as the Philippine Authorities claimed that the four Taiwanese fishing boats entered the EEZ of the Philippines. However, since Taiwan is not recognized by most of the countries around the world as an independent nation, it is not a signatory of the UNCLOS where in the Philippines adheres as a signatory. Read More at Agora Business Intelligence...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Myanmar's foreign arrivals up 44%

Foreign arrivals at Yangon airport during the first four months of the year jumped 44% year-on-year, with Europeans accounting for about one-third, reports said Sunday.

Through April, 253,136 foreign visitors arrived at Yangon airport, 67,460 of them Europeans, the Myanmar Times reported.

Among European arrivals, France was the main source market followed by Britain and Germany, according to Ministry of Hotels and Tourism figures.

About 60% of all arrivals in the main commercial city were from Asia, led by Thailand, Japan, South Korea and China.

Of the total arrivals, 64% were tourists and the remainder were business travellers.

The increase in visitors was largely attributed to political and economic reforms undertaken by the government since 2011.

"Last year more than a million tourists visited the country (through all entry points)," said Aung Myat Kyaw, chairman of Union of Myanmar Travel Association. "Since Myanmar is an increasingly popular destination, I believe arrival numbers will be 50% more than last year."-Bangkok Post