Asian Correspondent » Asia Sentinel http://asiancorrespondent.com Asian Correspondent Wed, 20 May 2015 11:20:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Islamic women challenge Malaysian crackdown http://asiancorrespondent.com/128088/islamic-women-challenge-malaysian-crackdown/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/128088/islamic-women-challenge-malaysian-crackdown/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 02:35:21 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=128088 Pic: Asia Sentinel.

Pic: Asia Sentinel.

‘Sisters in Islam’ will not go quietly, says leader, writes Asia Sentinel.

Saying government “Rottweilers” are out to destroy her organization, one of the leaders of a progressive Islamic women’s group in Malaysia is vowing to challenge an edict seeking to put Sisters in Islam out of business.

“Women are earning more than men, topping the universities, they are financially independent, they are not going to take any shit over this,” said Zainah Anwar. “Refusing to recognize and acknowledge that change is galloping before their eyes, that doesn‘t work anymore.”

Sisters in Islam has been in the business of helping Muslim women find out about their rights for more than two decades, including telling them their husbands only need one wife and that they have a right to property. Sometime earlier this year, that got to be too much for Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) and the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS). The department issued a fatwa, or religious ruling accusing the organization of “liberalism and pluralism” – in effect ordering SIS, as the group is known, out of business.

The fatwa calls for publications by SIS that are deemed “liberal and plural” to be banned and seized and the religious authorities have demanded that any form of social media printing or broadcasting Sisters in Islam materials to be blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

But Sisters in Islam, led by Zainah and Marina Mahathir, the daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and others, is refusing to go, saying they were never asked to explain their activities before the ruling was issued and that they only found out about it by reading the department’s website.

It’s easy to see why SIS, as the organization is known, is getting up conservative religious leaders’ noses. Religious themselves, they have put themselves at the interstice between religious conservatism and a society that is urbanizing and liberalizing and whose political underpinnings are fading. The United Malays National Organization, which has claimed to represent the interests of the country’s 60 percent Malay Muslim population for more than half a century, is losing its grip because of corruption and cronyism.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Wikipedia’s Indonesia fail http://asiancorrespondent.com/128082/wikipedias-indonesia-fail/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/128082/wikipedias-indonesia-fail/#comments Fri, 07 Nov 2014 09:46:18 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=128082 HENDROPRIYONO

Hendropriyono. Pic: AP.

It’s high time to demiliatarize the Wiki Bahasa version, writes Asia Sentinel’s Warren Doull

With the great hope for Indonesian democracy, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, taking office last month, pro-democracy groups in the country are buzzing. They are asking that he tend to unresolved injustices like grievances in remote Papua, reconciliation for the bloody 1965 “anti-communist” purges and the abductions of political activists in 1997-1998.

I have a simpler request, and it goes for Indonesian NGOs and pressure groups also. Bring balance to the Indonesian version of Wikipedia. While it may not always be the most accurate or objective source of information, Wikipedia is certainly a popular source of information. Indeed, the Bahasa version of Wikipedia is approaching one million articles. So the Indonesian public is not well served if articles about certain retired generals and political groups are presented in a one-sided manner in Indonesian.

For example, when it talks about former general AM Hendropriyono, who was a transition team advisor to Jokowi, Wikipedia Bahasa verges on propaganda. So, too, when it talks about East Timor and the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM).

Wikipedia’s Indonesian version tells Bahasa Indonesia speakers that, during his early days as a special forces commander, Hendropriyono “not only paid attention to the welfare of his soldiers, but also to their discipline.“ In 1991, Hendropriyono “wisely and methodically moved coffee farmers from a protected forest” in two sub-districts of Lampung province. It also vaguely notes an incident in Lampung in 1989, when Hendropriyono “succeeded in eliminating potential radicalism that was growing in the Talangsari area” (“berhasil mengeliminasi potensi radikalisme yang tumbuh di kawasan Talangsari”). The entry doesn’t mention accusations that at least 27 farmers were killed by Hendropriyono’s soldiers during this incident.

Nor does the article mention Hendropriyono’s suspected involvement in the murder of activist Munir, who died on board a Garuda Indonesia airliner in 2004 after being poisoned. Or his suspected funding of pro-Indonesian militias who murdered over 1000 civilians in East Timor in 1999.  The only hint of his controversial past is a revision on Aug. 20, 2014 that says vaguely: “Hendropriyono is said to have been connected to a number of human rights violations.”

Continue reading on Asia Sentinel

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Hong Kong gap with Mainland wider than imagined http://asiancorrespondent.com/128061/hong-kong-gap-with-mainland-wider-than-imagined/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/128061/hong-kong-gap-with-mainland-wider-than-imagined/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 05:46:31 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=128061 Hong Kong tycoon and chairman of the Liberal Party James Tien. Pic: AP.

Hong Kong tycoon and chairman of the Liberal Party James Tien. Pic: AP.

CPPCC’s ouster of defiant politician shows you don’t cross Beijing, writes Asia Sentinel’s Philip Bowring

The Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong is not only proving more durable than anyone imagined. It is uncovering all kinds of aspects of both mainland and local politics and attitudes that have long lain buried under platitudes and wishful thinking.

Take for example the treatment of James Tien, a pillar of the establishment and leader of the pro-business Liberal Party, a party mainly represented in the Legislative Council through the “rotten borough” commercial sector constituencies. Tien was summarily dismissed from the mainland’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) for suggesting that chief executive CY Leung should step down. That was hardly a revolutionary statement given that Leung’s unpopularity and reputation for incompetence extend far beyond the students and pro-democracy groups to encompass a large section of the business and professional community.

Yet membership of the CPPCC now apparently demands public backing for its positions. Even though it is supposedly only an advisory body it has been acting as if it were a policy-making instrument of the state. For many in Hong Kong, membership of the CPPCC and other mainland bodies (and their provincial equivalents) has been viewed as a kind of award or decoration, a demonstration that the person is sufficiently supportive of the government in Hong Kong to be viewed as “patriotic.”

But by demanding total adherence to the CPPCC’s decisions, it effectively makes it impossible for Hong Kong members to show any independence at all when it comes to Hong Kong affairs. This puts CPPCC members of the Legislative Council in the position of being unable to have their own opinions on issues which are supposed to be reserved for Hong Kong under the One Country Two Systems principle – all issues except defense, foreign affairs and final interpretation of the Basic Law governing Hong Kong.

The treatment of Tien by Beijing was another setback for the Hong Kong government, already reeling from Leung’s remarks the previous week suggesting that giving the majority of people the vote would lead to a welfare state and economic disaster. Tien himself had to resign as head of the Liberal party, leaving its leadership in the hands of a little-known 71-year-old commercial sector legislator. Worse it again showed the cracks that exist between the old elite which adapted from colonial to Chinese sovereignty but mostly backed Henry Tang in the contest for chief executive in 2012 and the harder edged pro-Beijing people represented by Leung and others long assumed to be close to the Communist Party.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

 

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The rising tide of change in Vietnam http://asiancorrespondent.com/127921/the-rising-tide-of-change-in-vietnam/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127921/the-rising-tide-of-change-in-vietnam/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 08:17:24 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127921 Tom Malinowski. Pic: AP.

Tom Malinowski. Pic: AP.

The US and Vietnam remain at an impasse despite Washington’s partial lifting of an arms embargo, write Asia Sentinel’s Khanh Vu Duc and Duvien Tran

US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski did not mince words when he urged Vietnam to improve on human rights at the end of his five-day tour of the country late last week.

It may or may not have been a warning to the communist government, but the implication was clear: US–Vietnam relations will likely remain in neutral until Hanoi undertakes much needed reforms. Of particular concern to Malinowski were the Vietnamese government’s restrictions on freedom of expression and association.

While not the first time the US has expressed its concerns on human rights in Vietnam, this may be the first time when Washington possesses the necessary leverage to influence Hanoi. From its hoped-for membership in the TPP to maritime security in the South China Sea, Vietnam requires US support.

The US has certainly not lacked in outreach to Vietnam. From extending a hand to join the TPP to announcing the partial lifting of its arms embargo, the US has made its intentions clear on deepening ties with its former foe.

Arguably at an earlier point, such overtures, although significant, would not have carried the same weight. However, for Vietnam, now faced with regional uncertainty and insecurity, the time may have come for it to compromise on issues it once considered off-limits.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

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India’s Modi merges myth and reality http://asiancorrespondent.com/127912/indias-modi-merges-myth-and-reality/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127912/indias-modi-merges-myth-and-reality/#comments Sun, 02 Nov 2014 06:31:22 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127912 Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

The ancient art of plastic surgery fixed Ganesh’s head onto a man’s body according to Modi writes John Elliott for Asia Sentinel.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has caused consternation and controversy by telling an audience of doctors and scientists last weekend that plastic surgery and genetic science existed and were in use thousands of years ago in ancient India.

That, he said at the dedication of a hospital in Mumbai on October 25, was how the Hindu god Ganesh’s elephant head became attached to a human body, and how a warrior god was born outside his mother’s womb.

The theme of Modi’s speech was that India needs to improve its (grossly inadequate) healthcare facilities, which is in line with campaigns he has launched for cleanliness and the provision and use of toilets in schools and elsewhere. Quoting the ancient Mahabharat epic, he extended this to say that “our ancestors made big contributions” in such areas and that those capabilities needed to be regained.

The speech,at a hospital funded by the Ambani family of Reliance, one of India’s two biggest groups, is on the prime minister’s office website in Hindi (click here), and theIndian Express has published some of the paragraphs with an English translation (click here):

“We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. We all read about Karna in Mahabharat. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharat says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb…..We worship Lord Ganesh. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head onto the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”

This is significant for three reasons. One is the unusual position of a prime minister who makes such utterances as fact, which caused the consternation and was debated earlier this week on the Headlines Today To the Point tv channel. The second is that, apart from that program, there has been very little coverage of this part of his speech in the Indian media, which has largely fought shy of criticizing or questioning Modi and his ministers since the general election.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Surrogacy: Human right or reproductive exploitation? http://asiancorrespondent.com/127863/surrogacy-human-right-or-reproductive-exploitation/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127863/surrogacy-human-right-or-reproductive-exploitation/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 01:32:42 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127863 Pic: Asia Sentinel.

Pic: Asia Sentinel.


Wild variation in regulations worldwide ensure that surrogacy is both human right and exploitation writes Joseph Chamie and Barry Mirkin for Asia Sentinel.

What used to be a costly, sci-fi solution to childlessness has emerged as an everyday story. But as the procedure becomes more common, so do cross-border legal and ethical problems, as highlighted by a case after a Thai surrogate mother bore twins: The Australian parents took the healthy child and left the one with Down syndrome behind.

Such stories are just the tip of the iceberg of a global story. Surrogacy – having another woman bear a child for someone else – increasingly poses a troubling dilemma for governments, religious organizations, surrogates and intended parents, and even the children themselves. Surrogacy is a fundamental human right for some and exploitation of others, especially women who are poor.

The rising popularity of the procedure in the United States, India, Thailand and elsewhere has led to devious online brokers, questionable private clinics, clandestine trips abroad and a thriving underground market along with well-publicized abuses. Some governments, most recently in Thailand, have imposed stringent regulations.

Cross-border arrangements are even more complicated with varying laws, medical practices, customs or codes of ethics. Often problematic in cases of surrogacies undertaken abroad is establishing citizenship and parentage of the baby.

Critics argue that surrogacy, also known as “baby outsourcing,” constitutes exploitation of women encouraged to provide wombs-for-rent. Many surrogate mothers are destitute. Furthermore, when the only motivation is money, surrogacy may have negative health and social consequences for women. In contrast, supporters consider surrogacy a fundamental human right, consistent with the freedom of personal choice and the right to bear children. Surrogacy empowers women to choose whether to participate and gain financial compensation for their valued service. Surrogacy also permits otherwise childless men and women to have children.

Surrogacy has existed since antiquity. In the much of the past, surrogacy simply involved another woman – the surrogate was impregnated by the prospective father and bore the child for the intended couple. Babylonian couples relied on this practice to produce progeny and avoid divorce. The Bible relates the story of Abraham and his infertile wife, Sarah, who offered her handmaiden, Hagar, to her husband to bear a child.

The introduction in 1970 of in vitro fertilization – fertilization in a laboratory by mixing sperm with eggs surgically removed from an ovary followed by uterine implantation – radically altered the basic evolutionary process of human reproduction and the practice of surrogacy. The first in vitro fertilization leading to the birth of a child was in 1978, and an estimated 5 million babies have followed since, with about half born in the past six years.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Modi steps up India’s defense preparedness http://asiancorrespondent.com/127812/modi-steps-up-indias-defense-preparedness/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127812/modi-steps-up-indias-defense-preparedness/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 02:32:10 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127812 Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

But can he conquer sleaze in one of the world’s most corrupt militaries? writes Neeta Lal for Asia Sentinel.

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is galvanizing his administration to clear long-pending defense projects that will bolster India’s operational military capabilities, stepping up reforms and raising limits on foreign direct investment in defense production to 49 percent from 26 percent.

India’s defense establishment has long been so riddled with corruption that its previous Defense Minister, AK Anthony almost stopped ordering equipment for fear of kickbacks and bribery. That has heightened India’s geopolitical vulnerability at a time when the country is caught between an expansionist China, with which it shares a disputed 2,500-km border, and an imploding Pakistan.

The withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and the ensuing tension the situation may trigger has done nothing to assuage the department’s worries.   At one point, during an extreme provocation by Pakistan, India’s general staff counselled against a military strike because they didn’t think the Indian Army was capable of taking on Pakistan.

Now the Defense Acquisitions Council headed by Defense Minister Arun Jaitley is determined to get things moving, however, clearing a slew of proposals worth over US$140 billion over the weekend.

They include building six new stealth submarines with foreign collaboration in India as well as deals for anti-tank guided missiles, midget submarines for special covert operations, Dornier aircraft and Russian Uran missiles for warships and the like. Purchases of Israeli “Spike” tank-killing missiles, and 321 Israeli Spike launchers and 8,356 missiles also on the list among others.

In a bid to push forth its agenda to privatize defense manufacturing, the right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party government has also greenlighted a deal between the Tata conglomerate and French aircraft giant Airbus to manufacture transport planes for the defense sector. The synergy marks the first big-ticket entry after the FDI limit hike in defense production in August.

The Modi administration earlier faced criticism for not allowing majority control in defense for foreign partners, leading to a widespread apprehension that this might deprive India of a chance to upgrade its antiquated weaponry and partner with world-class players in the crucial sector.

However, in August the Union cabinet approved raising FDI in the sensitive sector to foreign firms. The cabinet also decided that FDI beyond 49 percent would be allowed in state-of-the art defense equipment manufacturing, with technology transfer under Indian control and management. As a safeguard, the Cabinet Committee on Security will approve all such proposals.

“With the Modi government embarking on a ‘Make in India’ campaign to turn India into a global hub for low-cost quality manufacturing, the defense sector figures prominently in its strategy. We’ll be hearing of more and more such big ticket announcements,” said Rakesh Pawar, a consultant to the ministry on defense purchases.

Under the previous political coalition, India faced a long list of scandals in defense procurement deals that deprived the military of state-of-the-art defense equipment. In January, it cancelled a deal with the Italian-owned AgustaWestland to buy 12 luxury helicopters after a 15-month government probe amid allegations the company paid bribes to win the US$753 million contract.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Final appeal for Anwar to begin in Malaysia http://asiancorrespondent.com/127773/final-appeal-for-anwar-to-begin-in-malaysia/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127773/final-appeal-for-anwar-to-begin-in-malaysia/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 02:32:46 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127773 Anwar Ibrahim. Pic: AP.

Anwar Ibrahim. Pic: AP.

‘Sodomy II’ trial reaches final phase in politicized high court.  Anwar’s political future at stake writes John Berthelsen for Asia Sentinel.

On Oct. 28 and 29, lawyers for Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim are expected to go before the Federal Court, the country’s highest tribunal, to argue a final appeal on Anwar’s 2012 conviction in the so-called Sodomy II trial.

Anwar was ordered freed by a high court in 2011 only to be convicted by an appellate court after prosecutors appealed the case, in which he was accused of having consensual homosexual sex with a former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhairy Azlan, in 2008.

The opposition leader, now 67, is said to be depressed and fully expecting to go to prison, which would finish his political career, even if freed early, since Malaysian electoral law prohibits those convicted of crimes for running for five years. The question is, if he is jailed, what would become of the three-party Pakatan Rakyat coalition, which was already badly damaged by political infighting earlier this year over the naming of a new chief minister for Selangor, Malaysia’s richest and most populous state.

Given the weakness in the coalition, there is some speculation that what is obviously an extremely politicized court could be ordered to free Anwar, given the international opprobrium the decision would earn the country and the fact that jailing him would give the coalition a potent symbol of martyrdom.

Although the case against Anwar is almost universally regarded by human rights organizations and foreign governments as a circus trumped up to get rid of him as a force to challenge the ruling Barisan Nasional, it has preoccupied the opposition leader for the past six years, cutting into his ability to lead Pakatan Rakyat, which won the popular vote in the 2013 general election only to be thwarted from a majority in parliament by gerrymandering and the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the entire episode, starting with Anwar’s arrest in 2008, has been organized to try to blunt the increasing effectiveness of the coalition at a time when the ruling Barisan Nasional is riddled with corruption and cronyism. The charges were filed against him not long after the coalition made a dramatic showing in the 2008 election, denying the Barisan its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Conspiracy oracle backs Beijing from Bangkok http://asiancorrespondent.com/127744/conspiracy-oracle-backs-beijing-from-bangkok/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127744/conspiracy-oracle-backs-beijing-from-bangkok/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 04:44:15 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127744 Pro-democracy protesters attend a rally in the occupied areas outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Friday. Pic: AP.

Pro-democracy protesters attend a rally in the occupied areas outside government headquarters in Hong Kong’s Admiralty, Friday. Pic: AP.

A shadowy “researcher” recycles doubtful claims about HK’s Occupy Central onto the world stage writes John Berthelsen for Asia Sentinel.

For weeks, the China Daily and other top Chinese news organizations have been reporting on “secret meetings” between Hong Kong democracy advocates and US organizations such as the Washington, DC-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its subsidiary, the National Democratic Institute.

The “secret meetings,” which have actually been reported routinely in Hong Kong’s press, supposedly have been uncovered by what is described as an authoritative and respected Bangkok-based researcher named Tony Cartalucci. The problem is that as nearly as can be told, there is no such person as Tony Cartalucci. And what “Cartalucci” appears to have done is to have created a chain of biased or bogus online stories that travel in a circle from Bangkok to Moscow to Beijing to Hong Kong in an effort to discredit the Occupy Central movement.

“Tony Cartalucci” is believed to be a pseudonym made up by Michael Pirsch, who in an abbreviated biography on the website Truthout.com, describes himself as a former “union activist and union organizer for more than 25 years and a DJ on Berkeley Liberation Radio, a pirate radio station” who now lives “as an economic refugee from the United States in Thailand.”

Repeated efforts to contact Pirsch/Cartalucci by email at his Bangkok blog “Land Destroyer” and to his personal email address failed to elicit a reply. Land Destroyer is published not only in English but Arabic, Russian and Thai, indicating a considerable amount of resources.

The leaders of Occupy Central have reacted to Cartalucci/Pirsch’s allegations with irritation, saying they are perfectly capable of running their own protest and they don’t need advice or funding from US agencies.

However, in recent days Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has picked up the allegations, telling reporters that “it is not entirely a domestic movement, for external forces are involved.”  He will identify the “external forces” when the time is right, he said.  Pro-government politicians Regina Ip and Starry Lee, both stalwarts of the Establishment, have made reference to an “online source” for the rumors and Cartalucci’s allegations have been widely circulated within Hong Kong’s police force and repeated by Lau Nai-keung, a leader of the anti-Occupy movement and frequent commentator in the South China Morning Post.

If indeed Leung and the others are depending on Cartalucci/Pirsch’s reporting, there is plenty of it, a lot of it recycled to Moscow through a website called New Eastern Outlook, a propaganda outlet of the Russian Institute of Oriental Studies, a division of the Russian Academy of Sciences. New Eastern Outlook, where Cartalucci is a prolific writer, delivers a daily menu of reports charging the West with a long string of terrible things. On Oct. 25, for instance, the site intimated that the British SAS special forces are behind the ISIS beheadings of British and American hostages, that the US is lying in various permutations about the Ebola virus, that it is a “documented fact” (by Cartalucci) that the US is behind ISIS, that the young Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai “was set up…as a part of a propaganda ploy by British news network, the BBC.”

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Philippines VP runs into corruption roadblock http://asiancorrespondent.com/127704/philippines-vp-runs-into-corruption-roadblock/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127704/philippines-vp-runs-into-corruption-roadblock/#comments Sun, 26 Oct 2014 23:27:23 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127704 Philippines Vice President Jejomar Binay, center, reads out a joint statement to the journalists at a hotel in Beijing, China Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. Pic: AP.

Philippines Vice President Jejomar Binay. Pic: AP.

Jojo Binay can’t shake dirty wealth allegations writes Asia Sentinel.

Until very recently, Philippine Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay appeared to be cruising toward the top job in the 2016 general election, when President Benigno S. Aquino III must step down by law.  Aquino’s close friend, political ally and designated successor, Manuel A.“Mar” Roxas, has largely imploded, political analysts in Manila say, having shown himself to be ineffective as a campaigner, perhaps because of his patrician roots.

But corruption charges generated by a blue-ribbon Senate committee have thrown the presidential race into confusion and put Binay onto the back foot two years before the race. Binay’s unnatural wealth has long been a topic of conversation but the move against him seems engineered by forces aligned with Aquino, who want to see a cleaner candidate follow his six-year term.  Indeed, the spreading scandal has given a slight bounce to Roxas’s chances, providing some faint hope that he may yet be a viable candidate.

Up from the bottom

Binay came from humble roots to become a crusading human rights lawyer and key backer of the late President Cory Aquino, the current president’s mother. Cory Aquino installed Binay in office in Makati City after she deposed Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and he became the longest-serving mayor the main Metro Manila business district has seen, serving various terms between 1986 and 2010. His only son is Makati mayor now.

The swaggering, tough-talking Binay is also close to the powerful if tainted political machine of former President and current Manila City Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada. He also has a formidable machine of his own.

The fear is that Binay could be another Estrada, who was vice president under former President Fidel Ramos, who was widely regarded as a competent chief executive who got the country moving during his term from 1992 to 1998. Riding on his movie star fame, Estrada easily won the 1998 race,only to follow that with a presidential career regarded largely as an opportunity to rifle the public treasury.

And with Roxas having lost most of his never-substantial allure, there appeared no one on the horizon who could overtake Binay, one reason Aquino has toyed with asking the legislature to change the constitution to allow him to run again, which almost certainly is a political nonstarter.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Shinzo Abe’s push for women in Japanese politics http://asiancorrespondent.com/127693/shinzo-abe-on-japanese-women-in-politics/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127693/shinzo-abe-on-japanese-women-in-politics/#comments Sun, 26 Oct 2014 02:53:45 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127693 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Pic: AP.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Pic: AP.

On Oct. 22, we looked at women in Japan’s work force. Now we look at politics writes Todd Crowell for Asia Sentinel.

In an effort to burnish his avowed policy of empowering women, sometimes known as “womenomics,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed five women to his cabinet in his September 3 re-shuffle.

It is not the most women in a Japanese cabinet – former premier Junichiro Koizumi also had five women in one of his cabinets, but it is unusual for Japan, which also lags most every democracy in the world for female MPs.

The well-intentioned move has turned into a major embarrassment for Abe. Japan has never seen the spectacle of two cabinet members, both of them women, resigning their posts in one day.

Yoko Obuchi  and Midori Matsushima both resigned their cabinet posts on Oct. 20 to take responsibility for public fund accounting mistakes made by their staff and  support groups that some say verge on buying votes.

In Matsushima’s case, the staff handed out free tickets to a famous singer’s concert. Her mistake apparently was handing out handheld fans with her profile on printed on them.

Known as uchiwa in Japanese, they are the kind of thing that stores hand out for free to advertise their wares. Since the resignation story broke, hand fans with Matsushima’s profile on them have been selling for US$100 or more on eBay.

The ink was hardly dry on Obuchi’s resignation letter than her replacement was in trouble. Yoichi Miyazawa had to admit that some of his staff took supporters to a Hiroshima S&M bar and listed the US$170 expense as “political entertainment.”

The new and possibly soon to be ex- minister told reporters, “It is true that such expenses were made, but I did not go there at all.” He said that sadomasochism “is not my hobby.”

Abe appointed Yoko Kamikawa to replace Matsushima as Minister of Justice, so the number of women in the cabinet is just minus one.

Japan’s campaign financial reporting laws are complex, and to outsiders often seem picayune, and they trip up many a politician. Hardly any government gets by without at least one minister resigning over a gaffe or financing scandal. It’s practically an occupational hazard.

It was considered remarkable that the Abe government managed 20 months in office without a single resignation. This was in stark contrast to his first term in office (2006-2007) in which three ministers resigned and one committed suicide in a single year.

Such scandals, however do not necessarily ruin careers. Obuchi, for instance, remains an MP and, being only 40, almost certainly will return to office after a couple years on the back-benches. Before this latest incident, she was on track to becoming Japan’s first female prime minister.

The opposition in parliament, mostly moribund for Abe’s first 20 months in office, has suddenly come alive, sensing blood in the water and gleefully demanding further investigations and even criminal charges.  Abe’s swift action in accepting the two resignations may have neutralized the political fallout – provided no new scandals emerge.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Taiwan to join submarine race http://asiancorrespondent.com/127692/taiwan-to-join-submarine-race/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127692/taiwan-to-join-submarine-race/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 10:25:59 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127692 Malaysia Submarines

Pic: AP.

Newest plans greeted with cautious optimism writes Jens Kastner for Asia Sentinel.

Thirteen years after the Bush Administration promised Taiwan eight diesel-electric submarines, and 11 years after the Taiwanese walked away from an opportunity to obtain used but top-notch Italian boats, cautious optimism is emerging that the island’s navy will in the coming decade command a submarine fleet that can deter both Chinese aggression and Vietnam from coming too close for comfort in the Taiwan-controlled parts of the South China Sea.

Military officials here recently said Taiwan will build its four of its own 1,500-tonne displacement diesel-electric attack submarines by 2025, with a budget of about NT$150 billion (US$4.9 billion). The design blueprint is expected to be completed by year’s end. Thus Taiwan appears eager to join the littoral nations of the South China Sea in an undersea competition for primacy. Malaysia has bought French subs, Indonesia subs from South Korea, Vietnam submarines from Russia.  Defense spending as a whole across the region has skyrocketed as smaller countries seek to counter the growing hegemonism of China over the sea.

Although the design and construction of modern submarines counts among the trickiest of tasks for the defense industry, and countries that build diesel-electric boats generally do not sell arms to Taiwan, observers with a close eye on Taiwan military matters told Asia Sentinel that the story does have plausible elements.

“It doesn’t sound terribly realistic to have the blueprints ready in two months, but it is not impossible to come up with the local design of a submarine,” said Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program.

“Taiwan has a well-established and quite high-tech shipbuilding industry, and using experience of their two Dutch subs acquired in the 1980s they could probably come up with a design, as the general design of the two subs is still valid and could just be copied.”

He added that the US, which in the late 1950s stopped producing diesel-electric boats and now builds only nuclear ones, could help Taiwan with the design and supply most of the parts Taiwan doesn’t produce, such as sonar and combat systems; and help Taiwan with the integration, so that “in the end, after a decade or so, Taiwan may have new submarines that will probably work quite well.”

US Naval War College strategy professor James Holmes said it’s possible Taipei could make it happen “if it settles for something very basic and resists the urge to pile on every gadget shipwrights can conceive of.”

Recurring reports that Taiwan wants to build its own subs have emerged ever since it became doubtful that the sale of eight diesel-electric submarines the Bush Administration agreed to in April 2001 would materialize. Although Washington has basically promised them, it hasn’t agreed to any specifics partly because Taiwan didn’t make up its mind on submarines and the high price of them, and partly because the US did not have an actual design of conventional subs available for sale.

Except for the episode in 2003 when Taiwan turned down Italy’s decommissioned Sauro-Class boats, ideas to use European subs or designs sold via the US came to nothing, which is hardly surprising given that the European countries possessing conventional sub technology as well as Russia and Japan did not choose to profoundly mess up their lucrative business relations with China.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Womenomics to fuel Japan’s growth http://asiancorrespondent.com/127656/womenomics-in-japan/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127656/womenomics-in-japan/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 01:51:00 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127656 Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sets out to empower women as a pillar of economic growth writes Naohiro Yashiro for Asia Sentinel.

“Womenomics” is a key pillar of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic growth strategy. In 2013, just 64 percent of Japanese women aged 15–64 were participating in the labor force — a low rate by OECD standards.

As Japan’s labor force is already in decline, it is wasteful that women, and particularly those with higher educations, have been underutilized. To address this, Abe has set a target to increase the ratio of female managers to over 30 percent by 2020. In response, several large firms have set similar numerical targets.

But some are skeptical. As the ratio of female managers (including section chiefs) in Japanese firms was just 11 percent in 2012, it will be difficult to triple this figure in eight years. If firms randomly increase the number of female managers regardless of their ability, this may be costly or discouraging to their male counterparts.

Why is raising the percentage of female managers so important for economic growth?

The current one-to-nine ratio between female and male managers indicates a serious misallocation of human resources, given that male and female management abilities do not differ. It is often said that the lack of female managers is not attributable to discrimination on an individual basis, but that there simply are not enough female candidates. But such logic depends on the nenko jyoretsu system, whereby seniority within the firm is largely determined by how long one has worked there rather than merit.

So current employment practices, such as women being forced into temporary or secretarial streams and out of work when they have children, have resulted in significant underutilization of female human resources.

The extremely low female manager ratio is a result of outdated labor market practices. Seniority-based promotions used to be efficient when the industrial structure was dominated by manufacturing. This is no longer the case, but the memory of Japan’s successful economic past has led to a strong inertia in Japanese firms. The older generation also has a vested interest in maintaining seniority-based wages.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Interview with HK chief greeted with derision and outrage http://asiancorrespondent.com/127630/interview-with-hk-chief-greeted-with-derision-and-outrage/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127630/interview-with-hk-chief-greeted-with-derision-and-outrage/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 01:48:54 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127630 Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying. Pic: AP.

Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying. Pic: AP.

CY Leung digs himself a new hole in Hong Kong writes Philip Bowring for Asia Sentinel.

Most Hong Kong people are too poor and dumb to be allowed to vote, according to the territory’s Beijing-appointed leader Leung Chun-ying.

A bizarre joint interview with three foreign publications, theFinancial Times, New York Times and Wall Street Journal has again given new life to the students and their supporters on the streets of  the city.

If “you look at the meaning of the words ‘broadly representative,’ it’s not numeric representation,” Leung said.

“You have to take care of all the sectors in Hong Kong as much as you can,” he said, “and if it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month.”

“Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies,” he continued, suggesting business interests would suffer at the hands of the common voter. That income threshold leaves about 60 percent of the population deemed too poor to vote.

Outrage over the comments has been mixed with derision shared even by Alex Lo, the normally cautious South China Morning Post  columnist, who said that when he saw the interview he thought it was a spoof from The Onion, the US satirical website.

In the interview Leung claimed that the version of “universal suffrage” offered by the National People’s Congress was a real choice rather than a choice between two or three pre-selected Communist Party approved candidates.

In this one interview Leung thus showed not simply that he was following the Beijing line on constitutional development but had contempt for the masses of poorer people in Hong Kong. At the time he was campaigning for selection in 2012 he made his concern for the poor his main platform. Yet in office he has proved just as beholden to the business oligopoly clique, principally landowners and developers, as his predecessors.

In the interview he demonstrated contempt for what he deemed “populism,” presumably meaning that broad public interests take second place to a business group which makes almost all its money from control of the domestic economy rather than international or genuinely competitive local business.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Indonesia’s Joko takes center stage http://asiancorrespondent.com/127587/indonesias-joko-takes-center-stage/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127587/indonesias-joko-takes-center-stage/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 03:32:08 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127587 New Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Pic: AP.

New Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Pic: AP.

A transformative figure enters the presidential palace in Jakarta writes Asia Sentinel.

Indonesian President-elect Joko Widodo was inaugurated into office Monday morning in Jakarta after a hectic interregnum  in which it appeared that his opponent in the July 9 national elections, Prabowo Subianto, might seek to steal the office from him.

The 53-year-old president, known universally as Jokowi, still faces heavy going from a political elite so immersed in the spoils system that major special interests are expected to oppose his reform efforts at every turn.  It remains to be seen if he and his band of crusaders can turn around one of Asia’s most corrupt countries.

The 62-year-old Prabowo, a onetime Special Forces general and former son-in-law of the late strongman Suharto, was rumored to be cooking up an audacious brew of unsubstantiated charges against the new president, then pushing them through the House of Representatives to impeach Jokowi, to be followed by a move to eliminate direct presidential elections and the appointment of Prabowo as president.

The Prabowo forces, who nominally control 60 percent of the legislature, already pushed through a last-minute measure in the waning hours of the current session to eliminate direct local elections and make the positions appointive, which they were until direct polls were put in place during outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s period in office.  Yudhoyono, under huge pressure from outraged citizens, has sought to short-stop that move, using his presidential power to set aside the bill and demand a revote, which must happen within a year of his decree.

Jokowi himself, in what many thought was a show of uncharacteristic toughness, appears to have cracked the whip, derailing Prabowo’s machinations over the inauguration.  He met with Prabowo himself and Prabowo’s unofficial Sancho Panza, industrialist Aburizal  Bakrie, to lay down the law. The Bakrie forces, who have stiffed the government for decades on taxes, reportedly were told that stringent tax investigations might commence immediately after the inauguration.

Prabowo, who had refused to concede defeat after the election,  surprisingly attended the inauguration, as did Bakrie. When Jokowi greeted Prabowo as a “friend” from the lectern during his brief inauguration remarks, the former general snapped to attention and saluted the new commander in chief. The move seemed to put Prabowo, at least for now, in his place.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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India’s Modi tightens his grip on power http://asiancorrespondent.com/127583/indias-modi-tightens-his-grip-on-power/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127583/indias-modi-tightens-his-grip-on-power/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 02:49:29 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127583 Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi. Pic: AP.

 

Two state assembly wins solidify the BJP mandate in India, writes John Elliott for Asia Sentinel.

Narendra Modi and his fellow leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party believe they are on a 10-year mission to turn India into a successful world power with a strong nationalist base. On Oct. 19, they put two more building blocks in place with state assembly election victories in Maharashtra and Haryana, where they have ousted Congress Party governments and reduced that party to a humiliating also-ran role.

They have not however done as well as they had hoped because they have not won overall control in Maharashtra. Nevertheless Modi, who was the BJP’s star campaigner in both states, has broadened his and the BJP’s base in the country, and will now be able to implement his message and new policies more easily in the two states. The results also improve the BJP’s minority position in the indirectly elected Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament), where the Congress Party and other opposition parties can currently block the government’s legislation.

In Haryana, adjacent to Delhi, the BJP has won outright control with 47 seats in the 90-seat assembly, compared with just four in the last election. It has ousted a Congress government that has been in power for 10 years and was widely perceived to have facilitated corrupt land deals involving, among others, Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s businessman son-in-law. Congress won just 15 seats, down from 40.

In Maharashtra, the BJP won 123 seats and is by far the biggest party, but needs support to establish a majority in the 288-seat assembly. Maharashtra has been run by Congress-led governments for 15 years, and the outgoing coalition with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was riven with corrupt land and infrastructure deals that Prithviraj Chavan, who was shipped in as chief minister by Sonia Gandhi four years ago to clean up the government, has admitted he was unable to stop.

In an attempt to remain politically relevant (and maybe seek protection from corruption inquiries), the NCP has offered the BJP the support of its 41 assembly members. The Shiv Sena, a state-based chauvinist and often violent party which has 63 seats and has been a BJP ally for 25 years, is however a more natural supporter despite sharp clashes during the election campaign.

There will be some debate about whether the BJP’s failure to win outright in Maharashtra marks a gradual dwindling of the popular wave that swept Modi to power nationally in May, though the BJP line is that the wave has become “a tsunami”. Modi campaigned extensively in the state, but could not sufficiently reduce the grip of the Shiv Sena, which is renowned for its street-level gangs and clout, nor of the moneyed NCP, whose leaders include Sharad Pawar, a veteran national and regional politician, and Praful Patel, a controversiual aviation minister in the last Congress government.

The main loser is the image and clout of the Congress Party, led by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, who must have expected defeat because they made fewer than 20 appearances during the campaigns, compared with a total of over 70 meetings addressed by Modi and Amit Shah, the powerful BJP president. Congress came third in Maharashtra after the BJP and Shiv Sena and with almost the same number of seats as the NCP, while in Haryana it came third behind not just the BJP but also the local-based Indian National Lok Dal, whose former leader and chief minister, Om Prakash Chautala, is in jail for corruption.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel.

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Burma’s failed promise http://asiancorrespondent.com/127525/burmas-failed-promise/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127525/burmas-failed-promise/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 04:23:52 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127525 Aung San Suu Kyi

Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Pic: AP.

A new report warns that Burma’s widely praised path to democracy is in reality dangerously close to failure, writes Asia Sentinel’s correspondent in Burma

Burma’s path to democracy, born in considerable hope when the generals’ junta agreed to political reforms in 2011 and released democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, is in depressing danger of failure.

While hundreds of political prisoners have been released over the intervening three years, the civilian government has returned to jailing reporters, confiscating lands and abandoning its promise to seek conciliation with many of its ethnic minorities.

In four weeks, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other Asian countries will meet in Burma at the annual ASEAN summit and East Asia Summit, Human Rights Watch noted. “The event may be the last and best chance for foreign leaders to press the government and army – still the real power behind the scenes – to deliver on commitments for genuine democratic reform.”

US President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, incoming Indonesian President Joko Widodo and others should press Burma’s president, Thein Sein, to publicly commit to constitutional reform ahead of the 2015 elections, undertaking legal reforms that uphold the fundamental freedoms of all Burmese, and ensuring protections for vulnerable minorities, particularly ethnic Rohingya and other Muslims, Human Rights Watch said.

Last week, more than 650 representatives from Burmese civil society groups gathered to discuss the status of the country’s reform process in a sober atmosphere, eventually releasing a scathing report on the stalled reform effort.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

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Can Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung survive? http://asiancorrespondent.com/127503/can-hong-kong-chief-executive-cy-leung-survive/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127503/can-hong-kong-chief-executive-cy-leung-survive/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 05:07:46 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127503 Students carry a defaced picture of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying during a protest outside his home last month. Pic: AP.

Students carry a defaced picture of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying during a protest outside his home last month. Pic: AP.

Amid a huge conflict scandal, students want him gone but Beijing probably won’t axe him, writes Asia Sentinel’s Cyril Pereira 

With hundreds of police having cleared out the protesters in Hong Kong’s Mongkok district, it remains to be seen whether the back of the Occupy movement that has hobbled the city for week has been broken. It may not have been. Protesters are still clashing with police and appear unlikely to give up.  But another question may be how badly damaged Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is in the eyes of his political masters in Beijing, and whether he can survive  in the longer term.

Leung is under fire not only for what is perceived as his mishandling of the universal suffrage question that brought the protesters to the street in the first place but for a clearly shady deal exposed by the Sydney Morning Herald in which he received a huge bonus in stepping down from a real estate advisory company by an Australian engineering company firm dealing with the publicly owned MTR Corporation, which operates Hong Kong’s light rail system.

The Morning Herald, which first broke the secret US$6.4 million deal with engineering company UGL, earlier this week divulged emails in which Leung tried to pull US$4.8 million more after the original transaction. UGL CEO Richard Leupen balked, describing the squeeze as a “deal-breaker.” Leung accepted.

Payment was in two tranches over 2012 and 2013 during Leung’s current term as chief executive. The Australian engineering company was acquiring the distressed assets of DTZ Holdings where Leung was a board member in London and chairman of the Asia-Pacific subsidiary before resigning to run for the CE post in 2012.

Leung’s failure to inform fellow board directors of DTZ of the bonus, pay taxes on the deal or declare it to the Hong Kong government on taking office, shows a disturbing lack of ethical conduct. Regulatory authorities in the UK, Australia and the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong have all received formal requests to investigate.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

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Massive Ponzi scheme scandal unfolds in India http://asiancorrespondent.com/127385/massive-ponzi-scheme-scandal-unfolds-in-india/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127385/massive-ponzi-scheme-scandal-unfolds-in-india/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 05:20:41 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127385 Protesters demand inquiry into Saradha Group scam in India last year. Pic: AP.

Protesters demand inquiry into Saradha Group scam in India last year. Pic: AP.

Politically connected group takes millions for a ride, writes Asia Sentinel’s Navia Thakuria

Millions of small investors in eastern India have lost their life savings with the collapse of the politically well-wired Saradha Group, whose boss, Sudipta Sen, now behind bars and with more than US$800 million having disappeared, one of the biggest scams in Indian history.

It is a scandal that appears directly related to the failures of India’s financial and regulatory agencies. Beyond that, Saradha Group’s demise is an archetypal story of cheating hundreds of thousands of poor families, offering unbelievable returns up to 30 percent annually against deposits, in what appears to have been a classic Ponzi scheme, built partly on the cachet that rubbed off from high-level officials recruited by Sen.se

Arrested with the group boss, for instance, were a dozen high profile individuals including Saradha’s media wing boss Kunal Ghosh, former Bengal police chief Rajat Majumdar, East Bengal football club official Debabrata Sarkar, businessman Sandhir Agarwal, popular Assamese singer Sadananda Gogoi and others. Shankar Barua,the former director general of the Assam police, committed suicide after being suspected as a beneficiary. Raids have been carried out on the residence of Himanta Biswa Sarma, a former Assam health and education minister,and the offices of three satellite news channels.

The CBI suspects that Sadananda introduced Sen to former Assam minister Dr Sarma and State police chief Barua. Sadananda was arrested on Sept. 12.

Both the Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Reserve Bank of India are being blamed for their ineffectiveness. A High Court has directed that both SEBI and RBI should be questioned over their inability to control scams by mysterious companies like Saradha, called non-banking financial companies, or NBFCs.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

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China-US close to climate change deal? http://asiancorrespondent.com/127373/china-us-close-to-climate-change-deal/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127373/china-us-close-to-climate-change-deal/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 11:31:23 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127373 Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

The world’s two biggest emitters get together, writes Asia Sentinel’s Frank Jotzo 

For many years China and the United States have faced off over climate change. Now, action is one of the few things the two powers can agree on. A new view on the benefits of climate action goes some way to explain this shift.

Since the start of international climate negotiations, China has insisted that rich countries must act first to cut emissions and should pay for the costs of emissions reductions in China and other developing countries. Meanwhile, the United States has insisted that China and other developing countries must be part of action on climate change and used China’s apparent inaction to excuse their own.

Things began to change with the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, where China pledged to cut the emissions intensity of its economy by 40-45 percent from 2005 to 2020. The US pledged to cut its absolute emissions levels by 17 percent over the same time period.

Many doubted that countries would comply with their pledges at Copenhagen because they were not legally binding. But both China and the US are now on track to meet their targets. This creates confidence that deeper reductions are possible for the 2020s. Much deeper cuts are needed to effectively address climate change, and new analysis done in 15 major countries under the Pathways to Deep Decarbonization project shows that this is possible.

All countries have been called on to submit their pledges for the post-2020 period by the end of March 2015, to become part of a new climate agreement at the December 2015 Paris Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

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Polio cases surge in Pakistan http://asiancorrespondent.com/127274/polio-cases-surge-in-pakistan/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127274/polio-cases-surge-in-pakistan/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 03:32:37 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127274 A Pakistani volunteer gives polio vaccine to a displaced tribal girl in Bannu, Pakistan. Pic: AP.

A Pakistani volunteer gives polio vaccine to a displaced tribal girl in Bannu, Pakistan. Pic: AP.

Militants, inefficiency hobble inoculation efforts, writes Asia Sentinel’s Ronaldo Santos Jr.

Pakistan is starting to learn the folly of Islamic militants who are blocking polio vaccine personnel from doing their jobs, heading for one of its worst years for polio in recent times.

According to figures from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), 166 cases of polio have been verified this year, compared to 28 at the same time last year. This puts the country at significant risk of crossing the 199-mark officially recorded in 2000, or the 198 seen in 2011. Over the past two years, as many as 30 polio vaccine workers have been murdered by Islamic militants, focing vaccine workers to be accompanied by armed police as they go door-to-door looking for children to inoculate against a disease that has been eradicated in almost every other country in the world.

Militants are deeply suspicious of the vaccinations, which have been demonized by radical clerics as supposedly part of a western plot to sterilize Muslim children.  They also fear the campaigns could be used as a cover for spies.

The rising numbers of polio victims are a major setback for a country that as recently as 2005 saw just 28 cases, with everything seemingly on track for polio eradication. Last year there were 93 cases in the country, according to the GPEI.

The worst affected areas, according to State Minister for the National Health Service (NHS), Saira Afzal Tarar, are the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP), where militants are most often in control.

“Pakistan presents one of the most complex polio eradication environments in the world,” Ban Khalid Al-Dhayi, spokesperson for UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told IRIN. “In the areas that remain with poliovirus, there is inaccessibility, violence, misconceptions and misinformation that circulates every day, along with intricate tribal and cultural norms and systems.”

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

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China uses Triads against Hong Kong democracy movement http://asiancorrespondent.com/127209/china-uses-triads-against-hong-kong-democracy-movement/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127209/china-uses-triads-against-hong-kong-democracy-movement/#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 10:38:24 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127209 Pro-democracy student protesters shout at police in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, early Saturday, Oct. 4. Pic: AP.

Pro-democracy student protesters shout at police in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, early Saturday, Oct. 4. Pic: AP.

Thugs seek to intimidate demonstrators, reports Asia Sentinel

Organized crime became the new weapon of the Hong Kong authorities on Oct. 3 as they endeavored to disperse the demonstrators still massed in Mongkok in the dense heart of Kowloon.

Dozens of tough looking men waded into the peaceful demonstrators causing fights and many injuries. Some were arrested by the police but there was no sign of tough tactics against obvious provocateurs.

Police advised the demonstrators to disperse for their own safety, a good way of trying to break up the demonstrations by using the thug incursion as the reason. Meanwhile the government lamely explained that these were probably the actions of  citizens frustrated at the disruption to life and business caused by the pro-democracy encampment.

This simply infuriated the demonstrators who, like most Hong Kong people, knew that organized thuggery of this sort is the work of triads, the criminal gangs that are particularly strong in that part of Hong Kong “protecting” the many small businesses and one-woman brothels which operate in its old and crowded streets. When it suits them, the triads are prone to declare themselves be “patriotic” which provides a degree of political protection for their activities.

And so on this occasion the groups shouted “patriotic” slogans and abuse as well as assaulting the demonstrators. The police confirmed that some of those arrested had triad backgrounds.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

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Hong Kong: Best and worst case scenarios http://asiancorrespondent.com/127111/hong-kong-best-and-worst-case-scenarios/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127111/hong-kong-best-and-worst-case-scenarios/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 04:48:28 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127111 Thousands of pro-democracy protesters gather at Hong Kong's Mongkok district Monday evening. Pic: AP.

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters gather at Hong Kong’s Mongkok district Monday evening. Pic: AP.

Prominent country risk firm says the situation should resolve itself, writes Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen

With the Occupy Central campaign having entered the fourth day with the protests still alive, the movement has now gone in a new direction, transformed into what is being called the “Umbrella Revolution,” a name that transcends the “Occupy” phenomenon and gives it a broader identity. So what are the scenarios that we can expect to play out from here?

The police appear to have learned their lesson, at least temporarily, and have allowed the widening protest to shut down streets in various parts of the city. Despite that, the early and unwarranted police violence has given the movement a name and an identity – the use of umbrellas to deflect tear gas on Sunday night. That is considerably broader than Occupy Central could ever hope be.

Certain trends are becoming clearer. It would appear that Occupy Central has now transformed into a more grass-roots movement that is \loosely led and manned by students rather than directly by Occupy leader Professor Benny Tai and his close associates.

The demonstrations have been peaceful, with many of the participants describing a “carnival or party-like” atmosphere at Admiralty, Central, Mongkok or Causeway Bay.  “There is not a single policeman in sight in some of these areas for most of today,” one said.  Another said there is not a single scrap of waste paper floating around, nobody is stepping on the grass at the cenotaph, the War I memorial in the middle of the Central district.

But today begins the October 1 Chinese National Day holiday, a day of patriotic fervor marking the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. It is unsure how seriously Beijing will take the Umbrella Movement’s insult after student called October 1 the “deadline” for Beijing to back down on democracy. Protest numbers are expected to far surpass anything we have seen so far.  If the police continue to maintain their cool – and the mainland authorities allow Hong Kong to handle the events  as they have said they would do – so that there are no major clashes, the protests are likely to peak.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

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China underestimates Hong Kong’s resolve http://asiancorrespondent.com/127074/china-underestimates-hong-kongs-resolve/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127074/china-underestimates-hong-kongs-resolve/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 11:18:41 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127074 Riot police fire tear gas on student protesters occupying streets surrounding the government headquarters in Hong Kong, early Monday. Pic: AP.

Riot police fire tear gas on student protesters occupying streets surrounding the government headquarters in Hong Kong, early Monday. Pic: AP.

A tone-deaf government in Beijing misses the point, reports Asia Sentinel

It was a coincidence but a symbolic one. On the day that Hong Kong’s police launched repeated volleys of tear gas onto pro-democracy demonstrators in the heart of the city, Chinese President Xi Jinping was reported to be calling on all Chinese to embrace the spirit of Mao Zedong and protect the position of the Communist Party.

Hong Kong’s police have in the past mostly been viewed as relatively tolerant towards demonstrators, reflecting the fact that these are ordinary policemen from ordinary homes who likely reflect the majority view in wanting political progress for Hong Kong and the maintenance of liberty, but not violence.

But on this occasion, doubtless at the behest of Chief Executive CY Leung, himself under orders from Beijing, they came well prepared for offensive action to clear the streets of those they claimed were disrupting public order and assembling illegally. Helmets, batons and huge amounts of pepper spray aimed directly at demonstrators’ faces were deemed insufficient, hence the resort to large quantities of tear gas.

In the background stood other police armed with guns that threatened the use of rubber bullets.

So strong was the police response to what had been a peaceful occupation of public space – albeit one deemed illegal – that some of the leaders advised withdrawal rather than face injury in the face of police tactics.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

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India gets to Mars, but can’t mine coal http://asiancorrespondent.com/127035/india-gets-to-mars-but-cant-mine-coal/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/127035/india-gets-to-mars-but-cant-mine-coal/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 10:50:16 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=127035 In this artist concept provided by NASA, the MAVEN spacecraft approaches Mars on a mission to study its upper atmosphere.  Pic: AP.

In this artist concept provided by NASA, the MAVEN spacecraft approaches Mars on a mission to study its upper atmosphere. Pic: AP.

Recalcitrant judiciary wrecks mining plans, reports Asia Sentinel

India yesterday became the first country in the world successfully to complete a space mission to Mars on the first attempt, beating China, which does not yet have a craft in orbit around the planet. It also beat Russia and the US which did not succeed first time,and its cost was only us$74 mllion spent over three years compared with the US spending $679m over six years.

Narendra Modi, the prime minister launched his “Make in India” campaign at a televised jamboree in Delhi. This is aimed at persuading both foreign and Indian companies to invest in India and thus boost both its unsuccessful manufacturing industry and its exports. Twenty-five sectors have been identified  for social focus.

Abandoning the usual comparison between India as a lumbering elephant and China as a prowling tiger, Modi has chosen a lion (made of engineering cogs) as the logo of the campaign, presumably because his home state of Gujarat is home to India’s only lions.

With these two events, one might think that all is beginning to come right for a country that has lost its way economically in recent years. The timing is good. Modi is about to leave for what promises to be a spectacular five-day visit to the US where he will try to persuade investors and politicians – and world leaders at the United Nations – that India is bring back on track

Sadly it is not so. Just as Mangalyaan, (the Mars-craft in Hindi) was entering the Mars orbit, three judges in India’s supreme court cancelled, with effect from March next year, 214 of the 218 coal mining licenses that have been issued without open tendering between 1993 and 2011. This endangers India’s power generation industry, its steelworks and other industries, as well as adding to foreign investors serious worries about the risks and uncertainty of doing business here.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

 

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