Under the Radar News, 12.23.2009

Posted on Wednesday, December 23, 2009 by Prashanth Parameswaran

A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia

  • China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), the country's biggest oil and gas producer, signed an agreement with Myanmar's Energy Ministry for exclusive rights to build a China-Myanmar crude oil pipeline.

  • Top financial research firm Moody's says the Asia-Pacific is already well into the recovery phase and is leading the global economy out of recession.

  • Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou pledges that his government will seal free trade agreements (FTA) with other nations after inking an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.

  • China will deliver eight domestically designed private business aircraft to Laos in 2010 in its latest bid to find a niche in the international aviation market.

  • Indonesia says it will donate more than 12,000 tons of rice to an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) integrated food security network to assist other countries when they are hit by natural disasters.

  • Cracks within the Malaysian opposition, if unaddressed, could thwart its efforts to take power in the country's next election.

  • Zhang Boshu, a vocal government critic who has advocated constitutional reform, was asked to resign from his post at a leading Chinese think tank.

  • Myanmar's state press declared that the new state constitution adopted last year cannot be changed before planned elections in 2010.

  • *NOTE: Under the Radar News will not be posted during the next week and will resume operation after the new year on January 8, 2010.

    Indonesia's Defense Makeover

    Posted on by Prashanth Parameswaran

    The Indonesian Defense Ministry recently decided to procure three new CN-235-220 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) and purchase 96 additional patrol vessels to boost its naval arsenal. Further aircraft orders could be filed at the end of 2010, and Indonesia is also eying new submarines and platform docks over the next few years.

    The acquisitions are part of the Indonesian navy’s 2010-2014 Strategic Plan, which aims to achieve the minimum operational requirements of Jakarta’s poorly-funded armed forces – or what Indonesian President President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono calls a ‘Minimum Essential Force’.

    This commitment has been enacted beyond rhetoric. According to Jane’s Information Group, the $4.06 billion-dollar defense budget allocated for 2010 is a 21% increase from 2009, and it will grow in line with the country’s GDP for the first time in four years. Coinciding with an increase in funding, The Indonesian Defense Ministry recently issued a series of military-related reforms to be implemented over the next few months. These included increasing troop salaries, streamlining defense policies and practices, revitalizing its local defense industry, and purchasing new equipment.

    The measures are a welcome development for the Indonesian armed forces. Jakarta has one of the lowest defense budgets as a percentage of GDP in its neighborhood, a mere 0.62% compared to more than 2% in most of Southeast Asia. Experts have long lamented Indonesia’s aging defense equipment systems, poorly paid troops, and bottle-necked and red-tape-ridden policy process. The Indonesian government also came under fire earlier this year when budgetary shortfalls for equipment maintenance was suspected as the main cause of a military transport plane that crashed in East Java killing 101 people.

    Experts, however, remain only cautiously optimistic about this fresh defense outlook. Since the budget increase is barely enough to maintain Indonesia’s current aging equipment, planned purchases of new, updated technology have been pushed back to at least 2013. Indonesia’s uncoordinated legislative process, poor implementation record, and intense inter-agency competition also cast doubts over whether these “ideas” can be “translated into action”.

    Such a tight defense budget also restricts Indonesia to dealing with current problems instead of also adapting to future security threats. One 2008 think-tank workshop predicted that overpopulation, energy shortages, and climate change will severely compound Indonesia’s already dizzying array of security challenges over the next few decades, further straining defense budgets, increasing equipment maintenance requirements and sparking domestic unrest. Yet the Indonesian Defense Ministry recently said that it had “no specific national security agenda for climate change”.

    Despite these cautions, President Yudhoyono remains undeterred, pledging to gradually increase the budget annually until his term expires in 2015. As one of the fastest countries to emerge out of the world financial meltdown, Indonesia’s economy is probably robust enough to financially support this goal. But whether a flood of cash and a deluge of reforms can modernize and professionalize Indonesia’s embattled defense forces remains uncertain. This essential makeover could well achieve only minimal results.

    Picture: A CN-235 marine patrol aircraft (Air-Force Technology.com)

    Under The Radar News, 12.18.09

    Posted on Friday, December 18, 2009 by Prashanth Parameswaran

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia

    China To Deepen Rural Credit Cooperative Reform (Xinhua) - Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan said China would deepen the reform of its rural credit cooperatives in order to better serve farmers and facilitate rural economic growth. The cooperatives are major sources of agricultural loans in the rural areas.

    ADB Approves Loan to Rebuild Cambodia's Railway System (Xinhua) -The Asian Development Bank approved 42 million dollars in investment to boost Cambodia's battered railway system. If successful, rail travel into Cambodia from other Asian countries could be possible by 2013 and Phnom Penh will be at the center of a growing trade network in the Greater Mekong Subregion.

    Japanese Computer Servers Involved in International Cyberattack (Japan Times Online) - Japan's National Police Agency suspects that eight computer servers in Japan were involved in a wave of July cyberattacks that hit government and commercial websites in South Korea and the United States. The attack overloaded the web servers of 35 government and private organizations, including the South Korean presidential office.

    Indonesia Boosts Naval Capabilities (Jakarta Post) -The Indonesian Defense Ministry signed a contract with the state aircraft producer PT Dirgantara Indonesia (DI) to procure three CN-235-220 Marine Patrol Aircraft over the next two years. The signing is part of a wider strategy shift by Jakarta to shore up its procurement of domestic weapons systems and increase its lagging defense spending.

    China Beginning to Reverse 'Brain Drain' (UPI Asia) - Research indicates that an increasing number of Chinese students and professionals who study abroad – mostly in the education and technology sectors – are heading back home instead of remaining overseas. Though the trend, which started in 2001, suggests Beijing may be beginning to reverse its 'brain drain', statistics also indicate that those who stay abroad longer are less inclined to return.

    Palau, Saint Lucia, call for Taiwan Inclusion in Climate Talks: (Taiwan News) - Palau and Saint Lucia advocated the inclusion of Taiwan in global discussions at the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Taiwan has previously called on the UNFCC to reconsider its participation in lieu of its extreme vulnerability to climate change. Palau and Saint Lucia are two of the 23 countries that still have relations with Taiwan.

    Increased Thermal Coal Demand from India and China Threatens Supply (Bloomberg)- A new JP Morgan report says supply of thermal coal will be tight over the next two years due to soaring demand from India and China. The fuel's price is expected to rise from $70 a ton this year to $85 in 2011. The report attributed part of the demand upsurge to the rise of electricity generation in China.

    Report Says Burma One of “Worst Affected” Countries By Climate Change (The Irrawaddy)- A report published by the Berlin-based climate watchdog Germanwatch mentioned Burma as the second-worst affected country by climate change in the world over the last two decades. Five other Asian nations made the top 10 list, including Vietnam, India, China, and the Philippines. Burma, one of the world's least developed countries, has been ravaged by illegal logging and struck by devastating natural disasters, including Cyclone Nargis in 2007.

    Indonesia Could Embrace Nuclear Power Next Year (Sydney Morning Herald) - Indonesia could formally embrace nuclear power as early as next year, building up to four reactors to address growing energy demands. The plan raises serious concerns about radioactive leaks, particularly given the reactors' proximity to a Central Javan volcano.

    Heated exchange: Tuvalu forces China’s hand at Copenhagen

    Posted on by Tiffany Ma

    In the lead up to Copenhagen, many speculated that China was going to be the decisive, and potentially divisive, party to climate change resolutions. However, it was the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu, supported by other island states and some African countries, which reshaped debates by exposing the disharmony among the G77 bloc of 130 developing nations.

    Tuvalu broke ranks with the powerful informal alliance by proposing a ‘
    Copenhagen Protocol’ that would go beyond the Kyoto Protocol to legally bind CO2 emissions to 350 ppm, from the suggested 450 ppm level, and limit global temperature increase to 1.5 rather than 2 degrees. This injected a new dynamic in the emission reduction debate which previously was divided between two unified camps – the developed versus developing countries. While the G77 had previously presented a united front throughout the Bali Road Map and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, Tuvalu’s proposal drew rapid opposition from other member states such as China, India and Saudi Arabia due to the implications for economic growth. Although China supported financial reparations from the developed nations to small island states, as a leading economic powerhouse and greenhouse gas emitter, it was reluctant to open possibilities for broadening its own climate obligations. Furthermore, it was suggested that China’s opposition was also inflamed by Tuvalu’s formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan.

    In contrast to China, Tuvalu is one of the world’s poorest countries and lowest emitters. As the majority of its 26 square kilometer territory barely clears 2m above sea level, it is highly vulnerable to climate change related sea level rises and growing occurrence of
    king tides that bring salt water intrusion into the arable soil and water supplies. Worst-case scientific projections have warned that rising sea levels have the potential to completely inundate the country. The humanitarian concern of en masse displacement due to loss of national territory is exacerbated by the lack of international protection mechanisms for environmental displaced refugees and stateless persons.

    Going forward, the magnitude of insecurity faced by Tuvalu from further adversarial climate changes far exceeds that faced by many of its G77 peers. While countries with greater political influence like China will experience serious flooding, extreme weather and severe drought, its representative captured the reality when pointing out that China’s “
    basic circumstances” are fundamentally different from small island nations. These include conditions conducive to climate change adaptation and aversive to emission reduction such as economic resources and technology.

    Rather than demonstrating China’s climate clout, Copenhagen has polarized the diverging interests of newly industrialized and less developed countries within the developing countries bloc. In doing so, it undermines the future of China’s
    credibility as the stalwart champion of developing nations’ interests, an image it has presented on a number of fronts from the UNFCCC negotiations to the Doha Development Round.

    Image: The Chinese delegation at Copenhagen. AFP.

    Under the Radar News, 12.11.09

    Posted on Friday, December 11, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    China Pushes Domestic Consumption (Xinhua) Unable to rely as heavily on recession-ridden American markets, the Chinese government is working harder to increase domestic consumption, especially in rural areas. They are extending rural subsidies for cell phones and other appliances, may consider improving their social safety net, and have encouraged banks to open village banks to encourage rural lending.

    Japanese and Australian Companies Sign $90 billion Natural Gas Deal (The Australian) Tokyo Electric Power, and as a result the city of Tokyo, will get much of its electricity over the next 20 years from Australia’s Wheatstone Natural Gas.

    China Launches Remote Sensing Satellite (Xinhua) The Yaogan 7, the latest in a series of sophisticated observation satellites, was launched by the Chinese government this week. They say it will be used for crop yield estimates, scientific surveys, and disaster response, but many suspect it will be valuable in observation of foreign forces and other military uses.

    North Korea’s Foreign Trade Increasingly Goes to China (Korea Times) Thanks to rapid growth in bilateral trade, more than 50% of North Korea’s foreign trade is now with China. Some say it is a result of Chinese rural development plan and other nations’ hesitancy to allow trade. The results of this dependence are yet to be seen.

    Indonesia Considers Death Penalty for Corruption (Antara) A special commission of the House of Representatives in Indonesia advised that the nation implement a reversed burden-of-proof (meaning indicted figures would have to prove their innocence) and a possible death penalty in corruption cases to fight the nation’s corruption issues.

    Chinese Government Embraces Websites as a Platform (Xinhua) More than 45,000 websites have been set up by the Chinese government at various levels to disclose official information and to interact with the public. Supposedly a tool for transparency, these websites offer a wider audience for the government. The Ministry of Defense website has received over 1.25 billion hits in 3 months.

    Hatoyama Proposes Support for Asian Democracy (Yomiuri Shimbun) Japan’s PM Yukio Hatoyama announced on Thursday that Japan intends to provide assistance for democracies in Asia. He also said that his planned East Asian Community should provide election monitoring and other international support for democratic transitions.

    Korea to Build Nuclear Plant in Jordan (Chosun Ilbo) South Korea’s Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute and Daewoo beat out companies from Argentina, China, and Russia for a nuclear plant contract in Jordan. It is Korea’s first exported nuclear plant and shows the nation’s growing influence in the energy market.

    Japan's New Destroyer

    Posted on by Prashanth Parameswaran

    On November 23rd, Japanese media reported that the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) is planning a 248m long helicopter destroyer – DDH22 – which will be the largest of its kind with a displacement of 19,500 tons. Equipped with a full-length flight deck, it will be able to transport up to 14 helicopters, 4,000 people and 50 trucks.

    Japanese officials say the ship will help refuel other vessels, transport personnel and equipment, and conduct surveillance of surrounding waters. Beyond this, some observers also predict that such a destroyer will allow Tokyo to “project its influence and military force” beyond surrounding waters and the wider region to protect its interests and secure global lines of communication. These interests include supporting natural disaster relief operations and international peacekeeping missions, and perhaps even more ambitious future activities modeled on Japan’s recent participation in UN-authorized counter-piracy operations off the Somali coast in line with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s principle of “yuai” (fraternity).

    Furthermore, some media sources are speculating that the acquisition is at least partly directed at China’s increasing presence in the East China Sea and training exercises around the disputed Senkaku Islands. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defense concluded that Japan’s defense posture against potential incursions by surrounding nations was “inadequate”. However, one destroyer will only be a dent in Japan’s naval capabilities vis-à-vis China’s rapid military buildup.

    The destroyer has undoubtedly reignited media and public debates over Japan’s naval posture. In accordance with its post-war pacifist constitution, Japanese law presumably prohibits the possession of aircraft carriers since they are deemed to “exceed the war potential needed for a minimal level of self-defense”. Yet the Japanese media has already raised concerns that the new destroyer “looks like an aircraft carrier” and numerous bloggers have compared the design of the DDH22, as well as its Hyuga-class predecessors, to the British Invincible and Italian Cavour class aircraft carriers.

    Even so, this development does not signal a substantive naval buildup. The DDH22 is intended as a replacement to the decommissioning of five Shirane-class destroyers, thereby reducing the size of MSDF’s overall force. Furthermore, the ship lacks potential offensive capabilities, like a ski-jump ramp which would allow it to be deployed as a light aircraft carrier. The Defense Ministry has also specified the destroyer’s mission scope and offensive limitations, insisting that “the ship will be incapable of having fighter jets land on and take-off from the deck”.

    Nor does it portend a significant shift in Japan’s military ambitions. Even in a more uncertain and complex post-Cold War security environment amidst crises such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Japan’s capabilities have so far been increasing only incrementally. Though Tokyo plans to commission an additional destroyer in the future, enduring domestic pacifism and mounting budgetary constraints indicate that one should not expect a major military buildup anytime soon.

    (Pictured Above: Japan's Hyuga-class naval destroyer. MarineBuzz.com)

    Under the Radar News, 12.4.09

    Posted on Friday, December 4, 2009 by Kolby Hanson

    A weekly compilation of underreported developments in Asia.

    China’s Legal System to Pressure Local Governments to Transparency (Xinhua) The Chinese Supreme Court rules that local government interests can no longer be used as grounds to keep information secret. This may force all local governments to post their official budgets online. This is the latest move by the central government to crack down on corruption on local levels.

    SDP Threatens to Leave Japan’s Ruling Coalition over Base Issue (Japan Times) The Social Democratic Party, one of three parties in Japan’s ruling coalition, threatens to leave the coalition if the U.S.’s Futenma base is not relocated. If the SDP were to leave, the DPJ would lose their majority in the Upper House and the coalition could collapse. This only puts additional pressure on the alliance and negotiations with the U.S.

    China Relocates Tibet’s Farmers to Government Housing (People’s Daily) The Chinese government is nearing completion of a nearly $2 billion project to build 270,000 houses for itinerant farmers and herdsmen in Tibet. By the end of 2010, they plan to have housed all of the multiple million people. This both continues the Chinese government’s affirmative action programs in Tibet, and may help to reduce social and cultural conflict.

    Indonesian President Under Scrutiny in Bank Century Corruption Case (Antara) Indonesian President Suilo Bambang Yudhoyono, elected largely on his anti-corruption and pro-environmental agenda, allegedly provided stimulus funds to campaign contributor Bank Century (now Bank Indonesia).

    Japan to Deploy Forces to Sudan (Yomiuri Shimbun) Japan’s Ground Self Defense Forces, which pulled its last troops out of Afghanistan last year, plan to contribute several hundred troops to the U.N. mission in Sudan. This humanitarian move is rare for Japan’s military-wary government, and is stark in comparison to its recent drawback on support of U.S. missions.

    China Targets Central Asian Trade with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (Xinhua) More than 20 Chinese and Kazakh officials met to discuss encouraging bilateral trade. China is already Kazakhstan’s 3rd leading trading partner, and trade increased 27% last year. Uzbekistan and China are also meeting to expand their growing trade.

    Taiwan and China to Sign Currency Pact (China Post [Taiwan]) China and Taiwan are set to sign an agreement allowing direct currency exchange in order to facilitate cross-strait investment, further integrating Taiwanese and Chinese economies. Sources say it will go into effect even before their Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is signed.

    Chilean Officials Plan to Replicate Growing Chinese Solar Industry (Xinhua) Chilean ambassador Fernando Reyes Matta says that Chile’s energy establishment should further investigate China’s solar industry and announce an emissions target like China’s. This not only points to China’s success in renewables but also its growing influence in South America.

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