Saturday, August 03, 2013

40 Indonesians missing after boat sinks off Malaysia

Forty Indonesians believed to be illegal immigrants seeking to return home were missing Saturday after a boat carrying them sank off the coast of Malaysia, a maritime official said.

The boat, thought to be carrying 44 people, sank Thursday night off southern Johor state, said Amran Daud, an official with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), adding four were rescued on Friday.

The boat was heading to Indonesia's Batam island when it sank in rough seas about three hours after it left shore, Amran said.

Those missing include women and children, as search and rescue operations continued.

"The condition of the boat was believed to be questionable," Amran said.

Three of the survivors were rescued by passing fishermen, while another was saved by authorities alerted by the fisherman.

"Only four of those on board were rescued by fishermen and MMEA after floating 15 hours in the sea," Amran said, adding the four men have been hospitalised.

Many Indonesians try to leave the country furtively during Ramadan to return home to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Islamic fasting month.

Authorities said last month they were beefing up patrols. - Channel News Asia

China, Thailand vow to advance bilateral, China-ASEAN ties

Thai Prime Yingluck Shinawatra met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi here on Friday to discuss issues regarding bilateral and China-ASEAN relations.

During the meeting at the Thai Government House, Yingluck voiced her satisfaction over the development of Thailand-China relations. She said China has attached great importance to China- ASEAN relations and this has boosted the region's confidence in promoting growth and maintaining stability.

As the coordinator of ASEAN-China relations, Thailand is willing to join hands with China to push for steady development of relations between the two sides, said the prime minister.

For his part, Wang said China and Thailand, which are like one family, should maintain high-level exchanges and further strengthen cooperation in areas such as construction of railway and water conservancy infrastructure, trade of agricultural products and development of new energy.

The minister spoke highly of the work Thailand has done to advance China-ASEAN relations since becoming coordinator in 2012. He said China stands ready to work with Thailand and other ASEAN countries to continuously deepen the China-ASEAN strategic partnership and to create favorable conditions for a series of important events between the two sides later this year.

Wang extended welcome to the prime minister to attend the China- ASEAN Expo which will be held in Nanning, capital of China's southwest Guangxi Province, in September.

On Friday, Wang also met with Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Suraporn Tovichakchaikul. The two sides exchanged opinions and reached consensus on the deepening of bilateral cooperation. - Philippines News Agency

ASEAN, China hold forum on relations, S. China Sea disputes

Thailand is hosting a high-level forum Friday on the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership to review relations and cooperation over the past decade.

All aspects of the relationship, including economic, security and other cooperation, is to be discussed at the forum, which lists ministers, former ministers, ambassadors, academics and experts as discussants and presenters on relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China.

Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovijakchaikul, in opening remarks, hailed the "close relationship" between ASEAN and China and said he expected further cooperation in future.

On territorial disputes in the South China Sea among and between some ASEAN members and China, Surapong urged the parties to resolve their differences peacefully and work toward regional peace and stability.

"We should not let this issue be a barometer of ASEAN-China relations...we need to transform a sea of uncertainty and mistrust into a sea of shared interests and cooperation," he said.

Surapong added there is a "high possibility" of concrete progress in creating a regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea during the East Asia Summit in Brunei in October, which will come after senior officials tackle the issue in September.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the forum China is committed to resolving South China Sea conflicts with ASEAN members to maintain regional peace and stability.

He said China is ready to work with ASEAN on the regional Code of Conduct and on implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

"We hope other countries concerned will show the same spirit and work with us in the same direction instead of taking any move that may complicate and or aggravate the situation, misjudging the situation and making mistakes repeatedly," he said. "We would like to work with all countries to make the South China Sea truly a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation."

Thailand, as coordinator for ASEAN-China relations, is to host an ASEAN ministerial meeting to determine the group's position on the South China Sea territorial disputes in mid-August ahead of a similar meeting with China attending.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam

ASEAN members with claims conflicting with those of China in the South China Sea are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Taiwan also lays claim to some parts of the South China Sea. - Philippines News Agency

US Navy wants to expand Philippine presence, create temporary base

The destroyer Stockdale moors pierside in Subic Bay on Feb. 5. More Navy ships could head to the Philippines if a deal is reached to expand U.S. presence there.

Your chances to visit historic Subic Bay, once a favorite port of call, are increasing.

The U.S. and the Philippines are negotiating to expand the presence of American warships and service members at Filipino bases, deepening an already close alliance and providing the fleet door-step access to the contested South China Sea.

The talks center on an “access agreement” that would allow the Navy to dispatch ships more often to Subic Bay; to store spare parts, supplies and hardware there that would be useful in a crisis; and to temporarily base sailors and Marines there.

The presence of U.S. forces in the Philippines is still a touchy issue two decades after the U.S. left its huge and long-standing bases there, such as Naval Station Subic Bay and Clark Air Base. Officials with both countries say the push is part of an attempt to work more closely together — not an invitation to re-establish the bases.

The government of the Philippines is “working with us as we look at, you know, potential access agreements down the road,” said Adm. Samuel Locklear, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, in a July 11 Pentagon briefing. “They’re always going to ask the question, ‘Is the U.S. going to re-open Subic or Clark?’ And I say, the U.S. isn’t going to open anymore bases in the Asia-Pacific.”

“We’re not in that business,” Locklear said.

Ship visits to the Philippines are on the rise. The U.S. is training more with the Filipino military and is using Subic Bay as a logistics hub, as with the June visit of attack submarine Asheville and submarine tender Frank Cable. Port visits to the Philippines increased from 54 in 2011 to 88 in 2012 and continue to rise, according to the news agency Reuters.

Subic Bay holds a hallowed place in naval history. A fleet commanded by Commodore George Dewey seized it in 1898 by destroying the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay. (The famous phrase, “You may fire when ready, Gridley,” dates to Dewey’s open-fire order to cruiser commanding officer Capt. Charles Gridley.)

The U.S. presence reached its heyday during the Vietnam War, when Subic Bay’s piers and anchorages were used as a repair, refueling and rest-and-recuperation stop for as many as hundreds of ships each month. Mechanics repaired carrier-based aircraft at Naval Air Station Cubi Point.

But the U.S. pulled out of all its bases — some of its largest overseas — in 1992 after the Philippine Senate rejected a plan to extend a basing treaty signed in 1947. Various reasons were cited, including concerns over nuclear weapons passing through the region, the end of the Soviet Union as a Cold War threat, and the notion that the U.S. presence harkened back to the days of colonialism.

Return and refocus

Now, with the Pentagon’s strategic focus shifting to the Pacific, the Filipino bases are an ideal stopping point that’s roughly 1,000 miles west of Guam, where four ships are homeported. It also boosts the defensive posture of the Filipinos, who are locked in a territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea.

“With this recognition of an existential threat from China, I think there’s much more interest in having the United States presence,” said retired Air Force Col. Carl Baker, a Hawaii-based defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Baker said he believes the agreement likely would lead to more ship-repair work getting done in Subic Bay and more exercises with the Filipino navy. He estimated that the Marines dispatched there would number a few thousand at most and would rotate over for no more than six months at a time.

Baker said he anticipates the agreement may entail more berths for U.S. warships, but added that Subic Bay is highly commercial and will “stay largely focused on ship-servicing.”

Exact details on the basing proposals remain guarded in diplomatic channels. Asked how many ships and sailors the agreement may bring to the Philippines, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Pacific Command would only say that the basing would “enable temporary access to Philippine military facilities.”

A spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs declined to answer questions.

Whatever the final level, the additional basing is intended to boost training between the countries and to depot supplies in case of a crisis.

“An access agreement would increase opportunities for joint military training and exercises and allow the pre-positioning of equipment and supplies enabling us to respond quickly to disasters,” a State Department spokeswoman said in an email. - Navy Times

China tells US Senate to respect facts on map claiming entire seas

China said on Thursday it had lodged a formal complaint with the United States after the U.S. Senate passed a resolution expressing concern about Chinese actions in the disputed East and South China Seas.

The U.S. resolution, passed on Monday, listed several examples of worrying Chinese behavior, including China's issuing of an official map defining the contested South China Sea as within its national border and of Chinese surveillance ships entering waters disputed with Japan in the East China Sea.

China has repeatedly urged the United States not to get involved in either dispute.

"The above resolution proposed by a minority of senators took heed of neither history nor facts, unjustifiably blaming China and sending the wrong message," China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"China expresses its strong opposition, and has already made stern representations with the U.S. side. We urge the relevant senators to respect the facts and correct their mistakes in order to avoid further complicating the issue and the regional situation," it added.

Territorial claims by Japan and China over uninhabited islets and the resource-rich waters in the East China Sea, as well as China's claims over the South China Sea, rank as some of Asia's biggest security risks.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told his Politburo on Wednesday the country wanted to resolve its maritime territorial disputes peacefully and through talks, but would not compromise on sovereignty and had to step up its defensive capabilities.

Tension over the East China Sea has escalated this year, with China and Japan scrambling fighter jets and ordering patrol ships to shadow each other, raising fear that a miscalculation could lead to a broader clash.

The Philippines and Vietnam have also accused Beijing of becoming more aggressive in their disputes with China in the strategically located and energy-rich South China Sea. - GMA News

Friday, August 02, 2013

Philippines, Vietnam to seek ASEAN negotiations with China on maritime Code of Conduct

The Philippines and Vietnam will try to persuade other ASEAN members at a meeting in Thailand this month to go beyond mere consultations and go on to negotiations on the Code of Conduct on their maritime disputes when the 10-member bloc meets with China later this year.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, after meeting Thursday his Vietnamese counterpart, said Manila and Hanoi agreed to pitch to the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations, including two other claimants in the South China Sea-- Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam-- not to settle for mere consultations but instead go for a “negotiation stage” in September.

Del Rosario said, “We wanted to take a giant steps with China [in terms of the COC]. It is supposed to be just a consultation meeting, but we want to be able to bring it to a negotiation stage.” Should the 10-member bloc agree to the Manila-Hanoi proposal, they will bring up the matter at the ASEAN-China meeting in September in Beijing.

The Beijing meeting is the first time China has agreed to hold consultations with ASEAN as a bloc on the drafting of the Code of Conduct for parties in the South China Sea [which the Philippines calls West Philippine Sea], an instrument that is backed by the United States and is seen as a way to manage the territorial disputes in the region.

The Code, however, does not include a dispute settlement mechanism; it is just a means for holding claimant-countries more liable based on the provisions of the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC).

Del Rosario and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh had wide-ranging discussions on Thursday at the 7th meeting of Philippine-Vietnam Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation. The meeting tackled maritime disputes in the region and ways "to cooperate more closely in terms of the dispute settlement situation that we find ourselves in."

In the meeting, said the DFA chief, Minister Pham signaled that Hanoi was open to the possibility of joining in the arbitration process that Manila opted to use by filing a case last January with the United Nations. The process for the arbitral tribunal is under way, with Manila and Beijing being directed by the five-member panel of judges to submit this month their comments on draft rules set by the judges to govern the process.

Del Rosario noted that "Vietnam has been very clear in terms of advocating the position as part of the peaceful resolution according to international law, arbitration is a mechanism that should be respected."

The matters of maritime domain awareness, sharing of information and patrolling the maritime borders will have to be discussed, meanwhile, when Vietnam's defense minister meets with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin later this year, according to del Rosaio.

The Philippines filed in January 22 this year a case before the UN arbitral tribunal against China’s excessive and expansive claim over the disputed sea. It said China's nine-dash-line claim is excessive and baseless.

Beijing has repeatedly rejected arbitration, insisting it wanted to resolve the dispute solely through “bilateral” negotiations.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), even if China refuses to participate in the arbitration, the Philippines can still proceed with its case to prove that Beijing’s nine-dash-line claim is excessive and baseless.

Beijing’s claim covers the entire South China Sea, parts of which are being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia.

Hanoi backs arbitration

Pham assured the DFA chief that Hanoi support Manila’s case before the Arbitral Tribunal. “They are very supportive of that [Philippine arbitration case against China]; we’re discussing the possibilities that we may be able to cooperate closely with them in terms of the settlement of the dispute,” del Rosario told reporters in an ambush interview on Thursday.

The relationship between the two ASEAN neighbors was recently tested following reports that Vietnam had entered into an agreement with China to jointly explore the resources in the disputed sea, believed to hold vast reserves of oil and gas.

Analysts had said that such an agreement leaves the Philippines alone in dealing with China.

Del Rosario clarified Thursday that Vietnam did not enter into any agreement with China that would violate Hanoi’s local law. Even though China has been proposing to both the Philippines and Vietnam that they enter into a “joint development proposal” including joint gas exploration, the two ASEAN countries did not agree with Beijing's proposal.

“I think they said that China is proposing a joint development proposal with them, but I think they have taken the same position as ourselves. That a joint venture is possible if it is consistent with the laws of Vietnam, and in our case in the laws of the Philippines,” del Rosario explained.

Asked if Vietnam will join the UN arbitration, del Rosario said “possibly”.

He added, “that’s one option; of course it is a possibility that we may be able to cooperate closely with them in terms of the settlement of the dispute,” the DFA secretary said. - Interaksyon

Thousands cheer Thai king as he leaves hospital

Thailand's revered but frail king left the hospital where he has lived for almost four years on Thursday, as thousands of flag-waving well-wishers cheered him on his way to his coastal palace.

Crowds shouted "long live the king!" as 85-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej was driven away from Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital, where he was admitted in September 2009 suffering respiratory problems.

The king, wearing a salmon pink jacket, waved acknowledgement to supporters lining the route, many of whom were respectfully on their knees and clad in the royal colors of yellow and pink.

The world's longest-serving monarch, treated as a near-deity in politically turbulent Thailand, left for his residence in the seaside town of Hua Hin, about two hours' drive south of Bangkok.

He was accompanied by 80-year-old Queen Sirikit, who has also been in hospital for the past year.

"The tears came automatically, I was so happy I could not hold them back," said one onlooker, Sasitorn Intarachit, a pink jacket draped over her shoulder, after the convoy had passed.

The 27-year-old told AFP that the day-long wait in the tropical heat had been worth it for a sighting of the monarch.

Bangkok traffic police estimated between 20,000 and 30,000 people had turned out to show their devotion.

Brandishing a picture of the royal couple, the Thai national flag and a yellow flag that read "I love the king", Chatprapa Poomman said she was happy to take time off from her job as a grocer to show her devotion.

"I am the most happy. I have come here eight or nine times, whenever I know that he will appear," said the 53-year-old, adding that she was wearing pink because she had heard that the colour would aid the royal recovery.

As dusk fell the royal convoy arrived in Prachuap Khiri Khan province where the Hua Hin palace is located and was met by thousands of flag-waving supporters.

Weera Sriwathanatrakoon, the governor of the province, said he did not know how long the royal couple would stay at the seaside residence, which is called Klai Kangwon, or "far from worries" and is a longtime favorite of the royals.

Royal physician Udom Kachintorn said the royal couple would be given the same level of care as they had in hospital.

"Both the king and queen are in good health now and the king thinks that he should go and reside in Hua Hin so the public will not worry," he told Channel 3 television station.

The palace has made no comment on the move.

The elderly king, who has been on the throne for 67 years, has suffered from a range of ailments since being admitted in 2009.

He suffered a minor brain bleed in July 2012, but has since made several official appearances including meeting Barack Obama during the US president's visit to the country in November.

The queen has largely disappeared from public life since July 2012, when she was admitted to Siriraj Hospital with what doctors termed a slight loss of blood flow to the brain.

The monarchy has no official political role but during his birthday celebrations in December the king called for stability.

Thailand has been rocked by sporadic rival street protests for years, with ultra-royalist and nationalist "Yellow Shirts" and rural working-class "Red Shirts" both taking to the streets.

Political instability has coincided with increased use of the country's controversial lese majeste rules, which prohibit criticism of the Thai king, queen, heir or regent.

Rights campaigners say the law has been politicised, noting that many of those charged are linked to the "Red Shirt" protest movement, which is broadly loyal to ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Two months of mass street protests by the Red Shirts against the previous government in early 2010 triggered the kingdom's worst civil violence in decades with some 90 people killed, mostly in a bloody military crackdown.

The country is again gearing up for anti-government protests in central Bangkok, with a newly-formed coalition of ultra-royalist groups who despise the Puea Thai ruling party and its exiled figurehead Thaksin vowing to rally from Sunday. - Interaksyon

Philippines eyes to purchase 2 light planes for territorial defense support

The Department of National Defense is looking to acquire two brand new light lift fixed wing aircraft worth about P800 million.

DND Undersecretary for Bids and Awards Committee Fernando Manalo said the aircraft must be able to “provide organic general support for territorial defense, internal peace and security plan, internal security operations, disaster response and national development.”

The funds, which  will be sourced from the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act Trust Fund, are worth P814,000,000.

The bidding documents can be purchased for P75,000, with a bid opening on August 23 at DND Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

A pre-bid conference is scheduled for August 9.

The bidders must have completed a similar project within the last five years.

The winning supplier is required to deliver the aircraft within 548 calendar days from the letter of credit, Manalo said. - Philippine Daily Inquirer

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Filipino finalist wins ‘Apprentice Asia’

After competing for 11 weeks on “The Apprentice Asia,” Filipino product manager Jonathan Allen Yabut is hired.

Manila-based Yabut, 27, a University of the Philippines graduate, bested 11 other hopefuls from the region, concluding the debut season of the show inspired by the US reality program starring business luminary Donald Trump.

Declared the winner of an apprenticeship under AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes, the show’s version of Trump, Yabut competed with contestants from China, Singapore, and Malaysia, among others. He and entrepreneur-model Celina Le Neindre were the Filipino contenders. Le Neindre was “fired” in the seventh episode.

At a viewing event for the press earlier this month, Yabut recalled enjoying household chores behind the scenes, and described sharing food and appliances with other “The Apprentice” contenders similar to life in college.

As part of his strategy in the early episodes, he kept himself visible and competitive. “I did [verbalize] that I wanted to be project manager but it was edited out,” he said.

Yabut was the recipient of Mansmith Young Market Masters Award in 2012, recognized as one of the top seven Filipino marketers below 35.

In episode 11, Yabut was chosen over Andrea Loh Ern-Yu, a litigation lawyer from Singapore.

“I think I deserve it,” he said in the final episode before he was hired by Fernandes. -Philippine Daily Inquirer

Myanmar floods force 25,000 into relief camps

Nearly 25,000 people have been evacuated to makeshift camps after floods ravaged eastern Myanmar, an official said Wednesday, July 31, as relief teams struggled to reach remote areas inundated by water.

Flood waters have risen dramatically after several days of heavy rain in Karen State forcing thousands to flee to nearly 80 relief camps, Chum Hre, director of the social welfare, relief and resettlement department told AFP.

"Altogether 24,499 flood victims have been evacuated" in Karen State, he said, adding hundreds more had been displaced in Mon and Rakhine states.

"It is very difficult to reach some of the disaster-hit places because of the bad weather and landslides," he said, adding that helicopters had been deployed.

Heavy rains also inundated areas across the border in Thailand.

Seven Thai provinces remained flooded on Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said in its daily update.

Three people have died since Monday, July 29, after they were hit by trees felled by fast-moving water, it added.

In Thailand's western town of Mae Sot, which borders the flood-hit area of Myanmar, waters have receded in the town center but remain high in outlying areas, especially near the frontier checkpoint.

"The situation has returned to normal in Mae Sot city," Pramote Chantasri, of Mae Sot City Municipality told AFP.

"The worst was on Monday after four days of heavy rain in the mountains," he said, adding the bridge between the two countries remains open.

Parts of Thailand and Myanmar are inundated each year during the monsoon period, which ends in October.

Deadly floods in 2011 left more than 800 dead in Thailand, inundating swathes of the country for months, deluging parts of the capital and taking a heavy toll on the country's lucrative manufacturing industry. - Rappler

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Philippines' base plan targets China

The Philippines' new base near the South China Sea is designed to increase pressure on China and contain the country, experts say

The Philippine government's plan to relocate its major air force and navy camps to a former US naval base near the South China Sea is designed to increase pressure on China and introduce more outside forces to the region to contain the country, experts said.

As soon as funding is available, the Philippine government plans to transfer air and naval forces, with their aircraft and warships, to Subic Bay, northwest of Manila, to gain faster access to the South China Sea, Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Sunday.

"It's for the protection of our West Philippine Sea," said Gazmin, using Manila's newly adopted name for part of the South China Sea.

Subic's location will cut the time it takes for fighter aircraft to get to the South China Sea by more than three minutes, compared with flying from Clark Air Base, north of Manila, where some air force planes are currently based, according to a confidential defence department document obtained by The Associated Press.

The natural deep harbour can also accommodate two large warships that the Philippines recently acquired from its ally the United States, and will grant visiting US forces, ships and aircraft temporary access to more of its military camps to allow for more joint military exercises than are currently held, the media reported.

The first US coast guard cutter was relaunched as the Philippines' largest warship in 2011. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III will lead ceremonies on August 6 to welcome the second ship at Subic, the Philippine navy has said.

Aggressive stance

Li Guoqiang, deputy director of the Centre for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Manila is building up and concentrating its military forces near the South China Sea "with a clear target — China".

The move continues Manila's stance on the issue this year, which violates the spirit of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and increases the risks of conflicts in the region, Li said.

"If all related parties resort to military means as Manila has for a resolution, the region will surely become a powder keg."

China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei have overlapping territorial claims over parts of the South China Sea. China's call for a peaceful solution has recently gained a positive response from nearly all the involved parties, but not Manila.

The report AP cited said that the cost of repairs and improvements at Subic needed for an air force base there will be at least US$119 million.

Despite the high cost, the plan is likely to take place with assistance from Washington, which has been shifting its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region, and Tokyo, whose ties with Beijing have been strained after Japan illegally "nationalised" China's Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, Li said.

Complicating issue

Su Hao, a professor of Asia-Pacific studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said external forces that share the Philippines' goal of containing China are complicating the regional South China Sea issue.

"What Manila sometimes did was to meet the needs of Washington and US allies, to seek more support from them," he said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presented Manila 10 patrol boats for the country's weak naval forces last week, during his third trip this year to Southeast Asia.

The US-based Military Times website said that with the Pentagon's strategic focus shifting to the Pacific, the Philippine bases are an ideal stopping point that's roughly 1,600 km west of Guam, where four US ships are based.

"With this recognition of an existential threat from China, I think there's much more interest in having the US presence," the media quoted Carl Baker, a Hawaii-based defence expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, as saying.

But Su said the role Washington can play in the future is still unclear. 

"The US would like to see Manila posing threats to China or to back Manila behind the scenes, but it is reluctant to have open conflicts with China," he said. - Asia News Network

PM vows action as shootings stoke Malaysia crime fears

Malaysia's prime minister vowed on Tuesday that police would crack down on "brazen" crimes as concern over rising lawlessness grew after a respected businessman was gunned down in broad daylight.

Bahrain-born Hussain Ahmad Najadi, 75, became the latest victim of a spate of gun violence when he was killed on Monday as he walked on a street in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

His wife was shot and wounded in the attack, one of several unrelated shootings around the country that were splashed across newspapers on Tuesday.

Public concern has mounted in Malaysia over proliferating reports of killings, armed robberies and other crimes that have further tarnished a police force widely criticised as corrupt and inept, and led to accusations that the government was covering up the extent of the crime problem.

"I am deeply concerned by recent developments where murders involving firearms can occur in a brazen manner," Prime Minister Najib Razak was quoted as saying by the Malay Mail, noting that people were "becoming increasingly worried".

"We are ready to give the police anything it needs in its fight against serious crime," he said, adding they "must take immediate action to restore public confidence".

Police said Najadi -- who in the 1970s founded and led Arab Malaysian Development Bank, one of Malaysia's largest banks, before leaving in 1982 -- may have been killed over a disputed land deal.

He was shot at close range in the chest and lower abdomen and died on the spot, according to Malaysian media.

His Malaysian wife was wounded in the arm before the attackers fled in a taxi from the scene in the heart of the capital's commercial area, The Star newspaper said.

Police said they believed three men carried out the attack.

"We believe the shooter is a contract killer," Kuala Lumpur police chief Mohmad Salleh told reporters on Tuesday.

He insisted police could maintain public safety. "Security forces have things under control. If you want to go out late at night, we are still safe," he said.

Media on Tuesday also reported a number of other unrelated killings, some described as contract-style murders, in the capital and elsewhere.

On Saturday, R. Sri Sanjeevan, the head of a crime watchdog NGO that has accused authorities of manipulating crime data, was shot and wounded by unknown attackers.

Media reports have speculated that Sanjeevan was targeted because he planned to expose police links with drug syndicates.

He was reported to be under police guard in a hospital near the capital awaiting surgery to remove a slug from his rib cage.

Najib's administration has claimed crime has fallen in the past two years.

But Sanjeevan and opposition leaders say statistics have been doctored to hide a worsening public safety situation.

The opposition says this is due to the government's failure after 56 years in power to reform the police force, which is widely seen as pro-establishment.

Public fear has seen gated communities and private security arrangements mushroom in residential areas.

Purse-snatchings and burglaries are widely viewed as being at epidemic levels in the Muslim-majority country.

But recent months have also seen a spate of brazen mass robberies at restaurants, while burglary victims have included a cabinet minister, relatives of the deputy premier and the national police chief. - Channel News Asia

China reportedly rules out leaders' summit with Japan

Beijing has ruled out any imminent leaders' summit with Tokyo, Chinese state-run media said Tuesday after a Japanese official raised the possibility, in a rebuff underscoring tensions over a long-running maritime dispute.

Asia's two largest economies are locked in a bitter row over islands in the resource-rich East China Sea, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

Isao Iijima, a close adviser to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said on Sunday after a visit to Beijing that a high-level summit "will be held in the not-so-distant future". A day earlier, Abe also said he would like to hold such talks.

But an unnamed official told the China Daily: "What Iijima told reporters on Sunday is not true and is fabricated, based on the needs of Japan's domestic politics."

The official added that Iijima had not met any Chinese government officials, nor did either side discuss a leaders' meeting.

"Beijing has ruled out the possibility of an upcoming leaders' summit with Tokyo," the China Daily said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in an online statement that "as far as I know", Iijima "has not engaged in any official activity in China, nor have officials of the Chinese government made contact with him".

Diplomatic ties have frayed since last September when Japan nationalised some of the islands, triggering street protests across China.

Tokyo controls the islands, but official Chinese ships regularly patrol the waters nearby -- believed to be potentially rich in petroleum deposits -- raising concerns over a possible confrontation. - Channel News Asia

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Oil spill hits Thai tourist island

Thai navy personnel on Monday battled to clean up a major oil slick which coated a beach on a popular tourist island in a national park after a pipeline leak.

Roughly 50,000 litres of crude oil gushed into the sea on Saturday about 20 kilometres off the coast of the eastern province of Rayong, operator PTT Global Chemical said.

The oil reached Ao Phrao beach on the island of Ko Samet where hundreds of navy personnel, national park officials, company workers and villagers raced to remove it.

"It covers about 300 metres of the beach. That's a lot," Soomet Saitong, chief of the Khao Laem Ya National Park which includes Samet island, told AFP.

Some visitors were cutting short their holidays on the island, which is a popular destination for weekend breaks for Bangkok residents.

"There are oil stains right in front of the beach. Customers are starting to check out," a worker at the Ao Phrao Resort told AFP.

"There's oil all over on the beach," said a member of the front desk staff at another nearby hotel.

"We just have to accept it. It's chaotic right now. Many people and officials are on the beach dealing with it."

The pipeline operator - part of state-owned giant PTT - had said in a statement Sunday that 10 ships were involved in an urgent clean-up and it was confident of containing the spill.

PTT Global Chemical chief executive Anon Sirisaengtaksin apologised at a news conference on Monday and said the company accepted responsibility for the leak.

The group said the spillage came as crude oil from an Omani tanker moored offshore was being transferred to the pipeline for delivery to a PTT refinery.

A local member of parliament suggested that the size of the leak might have been even worse than initially reported.

"If that (50,000 litres) was the real amount, they should have already eliminated it - they should have solved the problem fast enough before it reached Samet island," said Sathit Pitutacha, a lawmaker from Rayong with the opposition Democrat Party.

Greenpeace urged Thailand to end oil drilling and exploration in the Gulf of Thailand in light of what it described as a "massive leak".

"The Gulf of Thailand, the nation's food basket, has long been under threat from oil spills along oil transport routes, at points of discharge and loading of oil carriers or from the several hundred oil drilling operations across the Gulf," said Greenpeace activist Ply Pirom.

The environmental group said there had been more than 200 oil spills in Thai waters during the past three decades.

"This is the biggest oil spill in the province," said Puchong Saritdeechaikul, director of the government's Marine and Coastal Resource Conservation Center in Rayong. "It's the first time it happened on Samet island."

Conservationists have voiced concern about the impact of both the oil and the chemicals used to disperse the spill.

"The main damage will be to corals and the fish food chain," said Srisuwan Janya, president of Thai environmental group The Stop Global Warming Association.

Another PTT subsidiary was involved in a huge oil spill off northwestern Australia in 2009 that was the country's worst ever offshore drilling accident. - Channel News Asia

China military puts best foot forward, plays down tensions

With handshakes and smiles, China's military put its best foot forward on Monday as it opened a secretive base to a rare visit by journalists, in an effort to allay Asia's growing fears about the country's strategic intentions.

China has advertised its military ambitions with displays of new hardware, from its first test flight of a stealth fighter jet in early 2011 to its launch of a fledgling aircraft carrier - both technologies that need further years of development.

The moves come as China jangles nerves in Asia and the United States with increasingly bold moves to assert territorial claims in the East and South China Seas.

But on an annual trip to a Chinese military base -- this year, for the first time, one outside of Beijing -- officers were at pains to show they had nothing to hide and the world had nothing to fear.

"The Chinese people and the People's Liberation Army are peace loving," said Chen Xifeng, the gruff commander of the base in Lintong, which is close to the northern tomb where the famed Terracotta Warriors were discovered.

"China does have territorial disputes with some neighbors but the government and military are quite restrained in dealing with them," Chen, whose base houses an air defense brigade, told reporters.

"As soldiers, we are happy to see the development of our military, but we love peace even more."

The base is grouped under the Lanzhou Military Region, one of China's seven military regions, and is strategically important because the restive far western region of Xinjiang falls within its boundaries. Xinjiang itself borders Central Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Chen's base is also home to a detachment of advanced HQ-7B short-range anti-aircraft missiles, though they were not put in front of the cameras as they were off-base at a training exercise, the commander said.

Instead, ageing anti-aircraft cannons dating from the 1960s were brought out, along with a slightly more modern version, and soldiers chatted amiably about their equipment and why they joined the army as they posed for pictures.

"It was always my dream to join up. I've always loved my country and wanted to help defend it," said Hu Dan, 32, sweating under his tightly fitted helmet in the afternoon heat. Hu, from the eastern province of Jiangsu, became a soldier when he was just 18.

Spending on the People's Liberation Army will rise 10.7 percent to 740.6 billion yuan ($120 billion) this year, a number many governments and analysts say is not representative of the country's true defense outlays.

More sensitive questions were studiously swatted away on the carefully organized visit.

Geng Yansheng, the Chinese military's official spokesman who often appears in state media issuing missives on everything from relations with Japan to military spending, refused to talk about anything besides the day's activities.

"We can talk about all these things back in Beijing," Geng admonished reporters, when asked about tensions with Japan over a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea.

China wants to show its commitment to transparency by arranging such visits, he added.

"This visit shows how open we are ... But this openness is a gradual process," Geng said. "We will continue to do this and open up more bases for visits."- Interaksyon