Under the Radar News 12.19.11

Posted on Monday, December 19, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia.

  • On December 12, Japan launched a new satellite, as part of a larger plan to have an intelligence surveillance system in place by 2013 to monitor Pyongyang. Prime Minister Noda emphasized the importance of this move for Tokyo’s national security. The same rocket that carried the satellite, the H-2A, is set to launch a South Korean satellite through a commercial agreement with Seoul.

  • Beijing sent its largest and most technologically advanced patrol ship, the Haijian 50, into the East China Sea under the objective of securing its “territorial rights and marine interests.” The next day, the Philippines sends it newest warship, the U.S.-developed Gregario del Pilar, to patrol the South China Sea, another site of Chinese territorial disputes.

  • The U.S. embassy in Seoul has sent officials to visit the offices of South Korean businesses with investment interests in Iran. The move is directed at companies which have or are aiming to conduct ventures without formally consulting the national government. The U.S. is asking its allies to apply heavier sanctions against Tehran in light of its nuclear development program.

  • The Seychelles offers the Chinese Navy its first military base abroad in a move to improve defense against piracy. Additionally, Chinese officials are considering setting up “supplies facilities” in the archipelago. India has expressed concern over the military base. Former intelligence chief, Vikram Sood said that the base gives China a strategic advantage in protecting its interest through military interventions in Africa.

  • The murder of a South Korean officer at the hands of a Chinese fisherman has prompted Seoul to call for an expansion of its coast guard. The government is considering doubling its large patrol boat fleet, increasing emphasis on firearm use for self-defense, and enhancing collaborations between the navy and army.

  • The Burmese government announced Wednesday that it was allowing locals to mine rubies in the Moegoke for the first time since the junta came into power in 1962. Allowing private companies access to the mine is seen as way to foster economic growth by creating new jobs. Likewise, government officials believe it will help reduce poverty and aid in regional development. The move is the latest in a chain of reforms by the new government.

  • The upcoming presidential elections in Taiwan have become a popular topic among Chinese netizens. Internet users in China have been wondering when “Taiwan is going to take us back?” reflecting perceptions of the island as a model for Chinese democracy. Related search terms have yet to be blocked by China’s censorship.
  • Under the Radar News 12.09.11

    Posted on Friday, December 9, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia.

  • Newly surfaced internal military documents in North Korea suggest that the military’s discipline and loyalty to Kim Jong-Il is in decline.

  • Kureha Corporation in Japan illegally exported carbon fibers to a Chinese defense company through Taiwan and Hong Kong. The fibers may have been used to manufacture radar and arms for the People’s Liberation Army.

  • South Korea sells Jakarta three submarines worth $1.2 billion. The sale posits South Korea alongside China as the top arms exporter in Asia.

  • Brunei will increase its exports of crude oil to China from thirteen to sixteen thousand barrels per day in an effort to strengthen bilateral energy cooperation and investment.

  • Australia unconditionally grants three patrol boats to Indonesia. The boats will assist Indonesian police with intercepting human trafficking, smuggling activities, and terrorism.

  • In a speech to the China’s Central Military Commission in Beijing, Hu Jintao urged the Navy to prepare for military combat and advance naval modernization to safeguard national security and world peace.

  • Malaysia and Qatar set up a joint $2 billion investment fund to increase the volume of bilateral trade and cooperation. The money will go towards investment opportunities in Malaysia, Qatar, and the region.
  • China’s Charity Case: Reforming the Third Sector

    Posted on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 by Jessica Drun

    Recent scandals involving charity misspending and embezzlement have tarnished the image of China’s non-profit organizations (NPO). News of these controversies has spread like wildfire across Chinese microblogs and public philanthropy suffered a blow by alienating potential donors. For instance, China saw an immediate decline in blood donations following the Guo Mei Mei incident, in which the supposed general commercial manager of the Red Cross flaunted her lavish lifestyle on Weibo, a Chinese social networking site. The Red Cross in China now reportedly faces a 30-40% shortage. With Chinese people increasingly wary of corruption, monetary contributions to charities have reportedly more than halved from June to August of this year. The consequences of these trends are grave, as Chinese citizens across the board have called for government reform in the country’s nascent third sector—and Beijing is feeling some pressure to respond.

    The economic reforms spearheaded by the late Chinese patriarch, Deng Xiaoping, are largely credited with unleashing market forces that spurred China’s rapid growth. The “opening up” policy contributed to a wide scale privatization campaign, leaving in its wake a debilitated social safety net. These trends, coupled with an upsurge of development-induced social problems, have opened space for Chinese NPOs to emerge at the forefront of the country’s public service sector. Under- resourced and overextended, China’s third sector has been a reoccurring topic in legislative debates in recent years—both in the frontlines of grassroots initiatives and among many levels of government officials. The situation presents an interesting contradiction, wherein the Chinese government must face the need to address social problems while at the same time realizing that such a move could detract from its authority.

    The landscape of the country’s third sector has changed significantly in recent years. This change is reflected in official government statistics that show the number of registered organizations has shot up over 40% between 2005 and 2010 alone. This increase does not include unregistered organizations, which are blocked from formal proceedings by China’s dual-registration system and strict guidelines. Comparatively, the non-profit landscape was practically barren under Mao’s rule and these types of organizations did not emerge until the 1980’s. This surge coincides with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) decision to defer social management responsibilities to NPOs as a means to promote Deng’s economic policies and encourage market forces. The initial non-profits were directly under government jurisdiction but as social problems emerged at a faster rate than the Party could manage, the central government began to defer control and reform the system.

    Approaches to reform have been multifaceted. The central government, citing the importance of preserving social order, has sought to revise the current bylaws underlining non-profit management. The central government has overseen the establishment of experimental sites in Wenzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen to test the prospect of transferring more government functions to non-profit organizations. The National People’s Congress and the CCP Central Committee have dedicated a section of the country’s next Five Year Plan (FYP) to charity management, ostensibly to address rising public discontent towards corruption in NPOs.

    In Chapter 39 of the 12th Five Year Plan, the central government called for the development of social organization through a streamlined application process, improved tax incentive laws, and policy support a la legal and regulatory protections. Before final approval in March 2011, the government disclosed the FYP guidelines to the Chinese people through a series of public hearings, seeking e-mail feedback and leaving room open for revision. Consequently, a Charity Law, drafted by the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MoCA), which has been on the table since 2005, has resurfaced for consideration. In July 2011, the government reopened the draft as the “Guideline for the Development of Charity in China” and solicited public input to give direction to charity growth and expedite processes conducive to the 12th FYP. However, the draft has since seen little movement within the legislature.

    Meanwhile, frustrated by government inaction, local and provincial governments have apparently taken matters into their hands. Respective authorities in Jiangsu, Ningbo, Hunan, Beijing, and just recently Guangdong have each enacted their own set of regulations, facilitating registration processes and allowing for more accountability in non-profit management. These moves have been commended by officials higher up in the government. In late 2010, a MoCA representative voiced his hopes that these developments will help guide those on a national scale.

    The general consensus on the need for reform paints an interesting picture for future developments of the third sector. The timing of the FYP and its related reforms comes at a critical crossroad in China’s development. First, the 12th FYP coincides with a transition of power to its fifth-generation leadership that will take place in 2012. Chinese leaders seek a seamless power change, but they must address the growing challenges posed by increasing social unrest. By adhering to the tenets set by the FYP and by shaping public interests through the charity law, the Party could mitigate discontent among the masses, while at the same time demonstrate responsible leadership. Moreover, promoting China’s international image should provide further incentive for the government to amend its non-profit regulations by legitimizing the new leaders through social progress. It should be noted, however, that certain types of non-profits within the sector, such as those dedicated to religion and human rights, will see little change in their directive.

    These advancements in the third sector may also point to the prospect of more comprehensive reform throughout the country. Grassroots movements empower and educate citizens for involvement in the public sphere, which then calls for a more active and informed society, with its own functions and claims. Larger citizen involvement, enabled by a burgeoning nonprofit sector, could lead to a further decentralization of power. This would be in line with the CCP’s “big society, small government” policy that seeks to create a network of social protections wherein citizens serve as intermediaries between the government and social organizations to sustain and promote a “harmonious society”. In essence, nonprofit reform may equip the citizenry with the capacity to take on the Chinese government’s social functions and become that “big society.” The deciding factor, however, is largely dependent on the direction the central government takes from its current Catch-22: toward third sector reform at the cost of its relative power or the continuation of the status quo at the risk of social instability.

    Image Source: AsiaNews.it

    Under the Radar News 12.02.11

    Posted on Friday, December 2, 2011 by Jessica Drun

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • Last week, Chinese marines in Liaoning province allegedly started drone patrols in the East China Sea. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are deployed from Dalian to observe conditions in the ocean, along the coastline, and on nearby islands to ensure the security of the Chinese coast and prevent unlawful activities in the waters. Scholars warn that the provincial government’s inexperience conducting drone patrols, poses the risk of unintentional flights into foreign territories and may lead to diplomatic disputes. Others are speculating that the purpose of the patrols is to monitor North Korean defectors and curtail Chinese trawlers fishing illegally in South Korean waters.

  • Chen Bingde, Chief of General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army and Min Aung, Hlaing Commander of the Burmese Armed Forces met on November 28 to discuss military ties. The two agreed to increase trust and cooperation between their respective forces, praising their previous accomplishments in high-level visitations, training, and defense initiatives. Hliang also reaffirmed Naypyidaw’s adherence to the One China Policy.

  • Kontras, a human rights group, denounces the Indonesian government for allegedly perpetuating the political conflict in Papua. A spokesperson for the group believes Jakarta is seeking material profit and national acclaim as a promoter of the sovereignty of the Indonesian republic against the instability that the province poses for the nation. Papua and West Papua, in Western Indonesia, have been embroiled in the Free Papua separatist movement since 1965.

  • South Korea signs aid partnership agreements with Brazil and Germany at the International Aid Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan. Each agreement will work through a triangular relationship between the signatories and an underdeveloped country to reduce poverty levels in the latter. The Korean International Cooperation Agency has cited the importance of forging innovative partnerships in international development programs.

  • Steel Authority of India, and six other Indian companies, have cemented a $10.3 billion dollar agreement with Afghanistan, securing rights to three iron ore mines. The contract follows a move last month by New Delhi and Kabul to bolster their strategic partnership in via trade, security, and culture. The deal may increase tensions between India and Pakistan.

  • Transparency International, a corruption watchdog organization, recently revealed that two-thirds of states in the Asia-Pacific were “more corrupt than clean.” The organization followed with a precautionary warning to Australian businesses to safeguard their investments abroad.

  • UNESCO experts from Japan, Italy, and the Netherlands, joined by embassy officials from Japan, Portugal, and the United States, are in Thailand this week to oversee restoration projects of World Heritage Sites, which were hard-hit by floods last month. The team will assess the damages and outline recommendations for the Thai government.
  • Under the Radar News 11.23.11

    Posted on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • During Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to Brunei--Southeast Asia’s third largest oil exporter--the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on energy cooperation. The leaders also discussed plans for a joint oil refinery development project worth $6 billion.

  • The Burmese military-dominated government reportedly reached a breakthrough in ceasefire negotiationswith two major armed ethnic groups, the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Shan State Army-South. The government reportedly offered the ethnic groups industrial zones, rights to freedom of travel for unarmed leaders, and other incentives for a cease-fire. These negotiations are the government’s latest attempt to end Burma’s 50 years of international isolation.

  • In what human rights organizations called a setback for political reform, Malaysia’s Parliament is set to pass the Peaceful Assembly Bill next month. The new measure will outlaw street protests and require a 30 day advance notification for all demonstrations.

  • ASEAN member states have set July 2012 as the deadline for a draft of the the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea at the ASEAN-China commemorative summit in Bali last week.

  • Japan pledged to invest $26 billion for infrastructure construction in Southeast Asia. The official development assistance (ODA) paves the way for the development of a Southern Corridor connecting southern Vietnam with Burma.

  • Philippine President Benigno Aquino asked South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak for military assistance during the latter’s visit to Manila on November 20 - 22. President Aquino is seeking aircraft and naval ships to boost the country’s military capabilities amidst rising tensions with China in the South China Sea.
  • Under the Radar News 11.18.11

    Posted on Friday, November 18, 2011 by Jessica Drun

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • Prime Minister Julia Gillard created tensions within her party, the Australian Labor Party (ALP), this week by pushing for the ALP to reverse its stance on uranium sales to India. The ALP has long adhered to a policy of only exporting uranium to countries that are part of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which India is not a signatory. Gillard argued for the economic advantages of uranium exports to India, promising that any deals would be made under International Atomic Energy guidelines of peaceful use. China is wary of the move and has called for international dialogue over the possibility of India entering the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

  • On November 14, India and Pakistan started talks on a trade deal, as part of an effort to improve bilateral relations. The respective commerce secretaries, who attended the meeting, are aiming to double annual trade to $6 billion by 2014. New Delhi and Islamabad have also agreed to normalize trade relations in February 2012 and work together to modernize transportation systems along the Attari-Wagah border.

  • The United States joined ten other countries in support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade talks, following the APEC forum in Hawaii. The U.S. move followed Japan, Mexico, and Canadas’ endorsements. China, however, remains wary of the TPP, viewing it as a further means of U.S. encroachment into its regional domain.

  • The ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting commenced on Tuesday in Indonesia. The meeting focused on developing a code of conduct for South China Sea claims, Myanmar’s (Burma) bid to chair ASEAN in 2014, and the P5 (U.S., China, Great Britain, France, and Russia) to respect Southeast Asia’s nuclear weapon-free zone.

  • On Tuesday, India successfully tested the Agni-IV missile, as part of its $50 billion plan to upgrade its military. The two-stage missile can carry a one ton warhead and fired from a road mobile launcher. India’s Defense Research and Development Organization stated that the Agni’s range of 2,170 miles can reach China’s eastern borders.

  • Canberra did not reportedly consult Washington before it made the decision back in 2009 to allow Beijing to use a satellite ground station in Western Australia for its space program. Critics of the program indicate that the program is dual-use and China’s military could potentially use the station to pinpoint U.S. and Australian warships in the region.

  • Wang Yi, who serves as the director of the Taiwan Work Office of the CCP Central Committee and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said Thursday that China upholds the “1992 Consensus” as the “essential premise” in conducting negotiations with Taiwan. Wang believes his statement was made at a time critical to future developments in cross-Strait relations, commending current efforts to bolster relations and calling for further moves towards peaceful ties.
  • Under the Radar New 11.10.11

    Posted on Thursday, November 10, 2011 by Jessica Drun

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • China’s State Council passed a plan on Wednesday that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2015. The Council also released a statement calling for the establishment of a CO2 calculation system and set emissions guidelines for local officials.

  • The South Korean legislature is reviewing a law that would allow the government to seize illegal Chinese trawlers fishing in Korea’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The current version of the law simply fines Chinese trawlers, but Korean officials are calling for an amendment because of the economic impact of allowing Chinese fisherman to keep their illegal catches

  • Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to announce Japan’s participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP) talks which will develop a multi-lateral free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific. He decided to act without the formal approval of his party, the Democratic Party of Japan, which may hinder internal debate on the TPP

  • South Korea and Vietnam are working to improve bilateral ties, following a summit at Cheong Wa Dae, South Korea from November 8 to 10. The meeting between President Truong Tan Sang and President Lee Myung-Bak comes at a time of rising maritime disputes. Seoul and Hanoi agreed to work on a development project to build nuclear reactors in Vietnam. The joint statement also indicated moves to accelerate bilateral trade, sustainable growth, and collaboration in international and regional forums through the ASEAN-RoK partnernship to promote Vietnam’s socio-economic development

  • Former Indian president Abdul Kalam commended the safety features at the Kudankulum nuclear plant in coastal Tamil Nadu, emphasizing that the new facility could prevent an accident of Fukushima-proportions. Kalam’s address in New Delhi comes at a vital time, as the country has been swept by widespread public protests against nuclear energy.

  • The Indonesian Foreign Minister , Marty Natalegawa, suggested this week that countries should reward Burma for its reform progress by loosening trade restrictions and permitting Naypyidaw to host ASEAN. Natalegawa holds that the opportunity with ASEAN would boost Myanmar’s image internationally and give officials further incentive to reform.

  • The Philippines is seeking a multilateral solution for disputes in the South China Sea. The Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary said that the proposal is an extension of the Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation and that any resolution of the conflict must be conducted within ASEAN because of exiting commitments of the Philippines as an ASEAN member state. The proposal will be brought up at next week’s ASEAN summit and is said to include plans that are in line with China’s intention to solve the issue bilaterally.
  • Under the Radar News 11.04.11

    Posted on Friday, November 4, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) restart peace talks amidst recent violence in Al Barka that claimed 19 lives. In the final peace deal, the government is likely to offer MILF enhanced autonomy in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

  • During the Kazakhstani president’s visit to Vietnam from October 31 - November 2, the two leaders decided to boost cooperation in oil and gas exploration and agree to consider the feasibility of a joint free trade agreement.

  • In response to PLA buildup, the Indian army proposes an addition of 100,000 troops to enhance border security. The expansion plan also includes setting up new airstrips and helipads along the India-China border.

  • China and Nepal strengthen military relations while Nepal pledges to adhere to a one-China policy and to never allow anti-China activities on Nepalese territory.

  • Japan and Vietnam strengthen energy and resource cooperation through sharing of nuclear technology and agreeing to jointly develop rare earth elements (REEs).

  • South Korea plans a unification fund to start raising billions of dollars for reunification with North Korea. The estimated amount needed to ease a peaceful transition within the next twenty years is $50 billion.

  • Indonesia announces plans to launch cultural centers abroad as part of its international cultural diplomacy initiative.

  • Japan claims 49 islets as exclusive economic zones (EEZs) amidst bids by other Asian countries to expand influence over maritime affairs.

  • The U.S. and South Korea announce plans to conduct a joint simulation exercise against a possible nuclear attack from North Korea.
  • Under the Radar News 10.28.11

    Posted on Friday, October 28, 2011 by Jessica Drun

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • Japan’s government agencies continue to be plagued by cyber attacks. On Thursday, viruses were discovered on over two-thousand computers in both houses of the national Diet. Japanese missions abroad have also been targeted; computers at nine diplomatic offices were reportedly infected. Meanwhile, further investigation into the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry hacking earlier this month revealed that confidential information on fighter jet and nuclear power plant designs may have been compromised.

  • U.S. and Philippine marines conducted an amphibious assault drill this past Sunday on Scarborough Shoal, an island disputed between China and the Philippines. Originally, a Filipino-controlled Spratley island was suggested as the practice site, but was rejected so as to not antagonize other claimants. Officials would not comment on whether the exercises were related to growing tensions in the South China Sea.

  • South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on November 2nd to increase efforts toward strategic cooperation and economic modernization in Russia. The two will also discuss the 2007 proposal to construct a natural gas pipeline from Russia to South Korea through North Korea.

  • China raises its minimum wage by 21.7 percent to increase countrywide consumption and spending power, in a move to counteract rising costs. If the current trend were to continue, Indonesia and Bangladesh could edge out China in low cost manufacturing.

  • China and Pakistan plan to conduct a joint military exercise next month. The two-week long drill focuses on strategies in Pakistani areas of “Low Intensity Conflict Operations.” This will be the fourth collaborative effort between the two forces, with one previously held in Pakistan and two in China.

  • India’s plans to expand its nuclear sector face challenges from both local governments and the general populace. State-level officials have blocked government initiatives to construct facilities and citizens across the country are protesting the use of nuclear energy in light of the Fukushima disaster. The national government has also been charged with a Public Interest Litigation, to be deliberated at the Supreme Court.

  • On Monday, the Philippines bombed rebel bases on Mindanao island in an airstrike against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The attacks were in response to ongoing violence in the south. The MILF seeks to establish an independent Muslim state in the region and has been in peace negotiations with the national government since 2003, though their campaign for sovereignty has endured for over 30 years.
  • Under the Radar News 10.21.11

    Posted on Friday, October 21, 2011 by Jessica Drun

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • The Japanese delegation to the upcoming U.N. Climate Talks will propose a new international framework to guide greenhouse gas reductions after the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012. The new plan will include a transition period from 2013 to 2015 (the suggested year of adoption) that allows signatory countries to gradually work toward the voluntary targets set under the Cancun Agreement.

  • Nigeria has invested over two billion dollars in the development of three oil refineries in Indonesia. Indonesian state-owned oil company, PT Pertamina, will import crude oil from Nigeria and process it at these refineries, which are each expected to generate 300 barrels per day.

  • President Ma Ying-jeou raised the idea of reaching a peace agreement with China within the next ten years. Ma emphasized that such an accord would only be considered if backed by the popular support of the Taiwanese people and with the consensus of Taiwan’s legislature. Another precondition, according to Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, is the removal of the 1,600 missiles aimed at Taiwan.

  • China rebuffed Norway’s attempts to normalize political ties between the two countries. High-level contacts were severed by Beijing last year following the announcement that political activist Liu Xiaobo was selected as a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Chinese officials hold that Norway should demonstrate more “tangible efforts” at reconciling differences before any further reconsideration of normalizing relations.

  • Early next year, Japan and the United States will jointly undertake an energy experiment near the shores of Alaska. Oil and gas companies from both sides will cooperate in technology-sharing, as they work to extract methane hydrate, an alternative energy source, from deep under the seabed. Japan will conduct an independent venture later this year near Tokai. Previous research has indicated that the Earth’s methane hydrate supply may store between 350 to 3500 years of energy.

  • Experts believe that North Korea has substantially more uranium reserves than originally assessed. This information follows a report from a U.S. scientist, who was invited to visit North Korea’s uranium enrichment facility last year. The complex was completed in a year and half from essentially the ground-up, indicating to observers that the North Koreans may have long been investing in a uranium-based nuclear program and that there may be other unknown facilities.

  • India has extended a $500 million loan for infrastructure development projects in Burma, following the suspension of the Myitsone dam project. The move is seen as a sign that India is reinvigorating its “Look East” strategy and working to counteract China’s dominant presence in resource-rich Southeast Asia. India has also accepted visits from high-level officials from Vietnam to discuss improved bilateral relations and strategic ties.
  • Under the Radar News 10.14.11

    Posted on Friday, October 14, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia.

  • Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced that his administration will ease the long-standing arms export ban. The lifting of these restrictions will allow Japan to export weapons and technologies to countries that have agreed to international arms exports regulations, and thereby boost Japan’s defense industry.

  • A cargo ship off of New Zealand’s coast reportedly spilled 200-350 tons of oil in what is considered the country’s worst environmental disaster ‘in decades’.

  • Burma announced plans to release over 6,300 prisoners including journalists, pro-democracy activists, and political dissidents. Human Rights groups question whether the amnesty plan reflects genuine reform or government efforts to stave off international economic sanctions.

  • Beijing is building its first megawatt solar plant. When completed at the end of this year, the plant will generate 3,600 kilowatt-hours of electricity daily—the capacity needed to power 1,150 homes.

  • Japan’s Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba establishes new maritime security partnerships with Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in an effort to deepen regional cooperation amidst growing tensions and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

  • Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are reportedly close to finalizing a gas deal that will bring China 70 billion cubic meter of gas to China annually for the next 30 years.

  • Vietnam and India’s leaders join hands to strengthen ties and defend the right of an Indian state-owned oil and gas company to begin exploration in waters claimed by both Beijing and Hanoi.

  • Indonesian citizens urge their government to back the United Nations Human Rights Council’s new mandate on accountability for serious crimes and human rights violations.

  • Australia’s House of Representatives and Senate pass the Carbon Tax proposal into law. The law is unpopular with the Australian public because it imposes extra costs on households and businesses for clean energy.

  • China unveils plan to invest $600 billion in comprehensive water-security projects to overcome water shortages that threaten the country’s economic growth.

  • Vietnam and China ink deals to address their maritime border dispute. The new plan establishes a defense hotline and the mechanism for a high-level biannual meeting to discuss long-term solutions to conflicting territory claims in the South China Sea, the islands, and resource reserves.

  • Taipei and Beijing are negotiating plans to swap imprisoned spies. Earlier this year spy agents for Taiwan and Beijing were caught and handed life sentences.
  • Under the Radar News 10.07.11

    Posted on Friday, October 7, 2011 by Jessica Drun

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia.

  • China influence continues to expand in Latin America. Governments across the region vowed to strengthen economic and bilateral ties with Beijing in commemoration of the PRC’s National Day celebrations.

  • The immediate effects of the Myitsome Dam suspension by the Burmese government are starting to come to light. China, a major investor of the project, sought consultation talks with Naypyidaw following the announcement, citing the need to protect the interests of its companies. The termination of the project also encouraged the Karenni minority to protest dam construction in the northern part of Burma.

  • The South Korean government indicated this week that it will not permit the United States navy to use the proposed Jeju naval base as a permanent station. The complex will also not support a U.S. missile defense system, as had been rumored. Officials further asserted that the purpose of the base is to deter North Korean attacks rather than to counteract China’s growing maritime presence.

  • Doctors Without Borders ceased its operations in Thailand. The decision was spurred by the organization’s inability to overcome administrative barriers posed by the Thai government, which blocked access to vulnerable groups. Their departure leaves over 55,000 undocumented migrant workers from Burma, Laos and Cambodia without healthcare.

  • Japan plans to introduce a proposal to enhance regional maritime security at the ASEAN East Asia Summit next month. The initiative will bring top government officials together at working-level meetings, helping to establish a framework that will guide future dialogue on dispute resolution in the South China Sea and beyond.

  • Military exchanges between China and Japan will resume on October 19th, after a yearlong suspension following a dispute near the Senkaku Islands. An agreement between the chairman of the Sasakawa Japan-China Friendship Fund and General Ma Xiaotian has set to maintain the exchanges for another five years.

  • Taiwanese aborigines plan on protesting the centennial celebrations of the Republic of China to reflect their discontent. Their grievances include having their lands taken away and having their land serve as a nuclear waste disposal sites.
  • Under the Radar News 09.30.11

    Posted on Friday, September 30, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia.

  • China and India launched the first Strategic Economic Dialogue this week to discuss differences on oil exploration in the South China Sea, business opportunities and solutions to the European debt crisis.

  • Tokyo is reportedly moving closer toward purchasing new generation jet fighters including the F-35 stealth fighter, Eurofighter Typhoon and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Japan’s Ministry of Defense will purchase 40 new jets in total and retire its fleet of F-4s.

  • During President Corazon Aquino’s visit to Japan this week, the two countries launched the “Coast Watch” initiative to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. During the visit Japan also pledged $1.4 billion in investment and $120 million loan in Official Development Assistance (ODA) for forest management programs.

  • South Korea will reportedly build a naval base on Ulleung Island in the East Sea to defend its sovereignty claim over Dokdo Island (called Takeshima Island by Japan). Both Japan and South Korea claim sovereignty over the small islet.

  • Japan plans to diversify its supply chain for rare earth elements (REE) through an agreement with Burma. Currently, China controls over 90 percent of global REE supply.

  • China and South Africa signed a MOU on geology and mineral resources cooperation and an agreement for developing financial cooperation. These pacts appear to reinforce the countries’ comprehensive strategic partnership status, established last year.

  • In an apparent effort to resume peace talks, India and Pakistan agree to double trade within three years and open a second border trading post.

  • Typhoon Nesat killed at least 43 people and left 30 missing in the Philippines. Around 160,000 Filipinos are still in evacuation centers due to flooding. In Hainan Island, China, hundreds of thousands evacuated their homes.

  • Taiwanese businessmen in China claim that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) threatened to send agents to monitor demonstrations in Taipei. Protesters claim that Chinese officials have illegally seized their investments in the Mainland.
  • Under the Radar News 09.23.11

    Posted on Friday, September 23, 2011 by Jessica Drun

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • Japanese defense firm, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, reported a cyber attack on over 80 of its servers. The hackers were trying to access sensitive data on the country’s submarine, missile and nuclear power plant production lines. Though Mitsubishi claims that no information has been compromised, the Japan Ministry of Defense has called for a full investigation. Later, two other Japanese defense companies, IHI Corp. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries revealed that they had been victim to similar attacks.

  • India’s state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONCG) is reportedly working with Vietnam in outlining plans for an oil-drilling plant in the South China Sea. The proposed drilling points are located near the disputed Spratly Islands, prompting China—one of the claimants of the islets—to criticize the move on grounds that it constituted interference and territorial encroachment. Despite repeated warnings from Beijing, ONCG has maintained its commitment to the venture.

  • The Burmese government loosened its strict control over the internet this week, allowing its citizens access to websites hosted by dissidents, international news sources, and YouTube.

  • Taiwanese and Chinese telecommunications companies committed to funding the development of a cross-Strait marine cable, linking Kinmen and Xiamen. The cable is expected to increase both the volume and quality of calls between Taiwan and China and is backed with the full support of national security agencies.

  • Torrential rain has devastated parts of China, causing severe flooding and landslides in Sichuan, Henan, and Shaanxi provinces. Damages are assessed to be around $2.7 billion and affecting over 12.3 million people. Records indicate that the flooding in Sichuan is the worst ever recorded.

  • The opposition candidate, Michael Sata, won the Zambian presidential election on the Patriotic Front’s ticket. He is known for his staunch stance against China, which stems from his criticism of the labor conditions at local Chinese mining sites. His victory may alter the landscape of Sino-Zambian relations. Following Sata’s victory, Chinese officials warned local expats to stay indoors.

  • South Korea is reportedly investing in a multi-billion dollar missile defense project. The stated purpose of the initiative is to safeguard populated cities, key military sites and nuclear power plants from possible North Korean attacks. The United States had approached the South Koreans with an invitation to join the U.S. missile defense system. However, Seoul was unsure of the system's overall effectiveness and wary of Beijing's response.

  • Vietnam expatriates living in Western nations composed a letter to the Vietnamese president calling for democratic reform. The letter outlined a list of grievances toward China, citing both historical incidents and current offenses, including resource exploitation and China’s aggressive actions in the Spratly Islands. The expats ascertain that the most viable way to counteract Chinese influence is to amend the national Constitution and allow the voice of the people to be heard.
  • China’s “Doctrine of Non-Interference”: The Curious Case of Iran

    Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski


    China’s actions have not been in tune with its foreign policy “doctrine of non-interference.” This is a good thing.

    On stage, Chinese diplomats continue to promulgate the country’s oft-stated policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Yet the evolution of the PRC’s reaction to the on-going crisis in Libya and Sudan’s referendum suggest that it is not iron-clad and other calculations may be pulling at the seams of this so-called doctrine. Iran provides an interesting case-study as there are indications that a similar shift in Chinese posturing may be in the offing.

    While Chinese leaders consistently hoist Tehran up as a “fraternal partner” and resist U.N. sanctions to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Beijing’s recent actions do not match up with its diplomats’ congenial rhetoric. Recent reports reveal that Chinese SOEs have put the brakes on oil and gas investment in Iran. CNPC, China’s largest state oil and gas group has delayed drilling exploration wells on the South Pars natural gas field, the country’s most significant energy development project. Sinopec Group, China’s second largest oil and gas firm, delayed the start date of the $2 billion Yadavaran oil development project and CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation) pulled its team from the North Pars gas venture.

    A permanent shift to a “go slow” approach would be significant because Chinese divestment could undermine the Iranian economy and hence challenge the current Iranian leadership under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose administration has been under severe pressure externally as well as internally by the popular “Green Movement.” Iran lacks the infrastructure to refine oil and to efficiently extract natural gas and therefore relies heavily on foreign investment and technological expertise. China has traditionally responded to this deficiency; in 2009, China invested $29.71 billion in Iran’s energy sector, a colossal amount relative to Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia’s $250 million aggregate investments. In 2010, Iran was also the fourth largest recipient of Chinese non-bond investment.

    Yet, recent international and U.S. sanctions have halted foreign investment in Iran and contributed to a 9.5 percent decline in Iran’s annual oil production levels. A U.S. National Academy of Sciences study estimates that Iranian oil exports could drop to zero by 2015.With South Korea and Japan having abandoned Iran, China could be the last straw for Iran’s strategic oil sector.

    Only time will tell if China’s recent investment slowdown in Iran’s oil sector is of a permanent nature or just a tactical diversion. Therefore, it is more important to examine the drivers behind Chinese actions: Is Beijing responding to U.S. carrots and sticks or voluntarily scaling back from Iran to improve its international image? An understanding of what strategies are effective in shifting China’s Iran policy will better facilitate the United States’ policy goals vis-a-vis China. While uncertainty over China’s intentions in Iran warrants caution, perhaps most disconcerting is the duplicity between Beijing’s rhetoric and actions. While such discrepancies in the cases of Iran, Sudan, and Libya are favorable positions for the United States, China’s questionable compliance to its agreements is a nascent warning to the level of trust that Washington should exert into its bilateral agreements with Beijing.


    Image Source: The New York Times

    Under the Radar News 09.16.11

    Posted on Friday, September 16, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • China has reportedly accelerated the pace of mapping the deep seabed from the ground area along the country's 3 million square kilometers of water territory that it claims. According to China's 2011 Ocean Development Report, offshore development and resource exploration are expected to bring in $814 billion in revenue by 2020.

  • The Chinese government officially recognized the National Transition Council as the legitimate authority in Libya and pledged to play an active role in the country’s reconstruction.

  • Japan’s Prime Minister Noda restarted nuclear power plants that were decommissioned following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. He also proposed a plan for an International Nuclear Safety Training Institute, which would seek to improve the quality of nuclear reactors within Japan and invite international experts to share best practices.

  • Indonesia and Vietnam established joint maritime patrols to improve security in the South China Sea in an apparent effort to reassert their own territorial claims and economic interests in the region.

  • A leaked cable from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou describes pollution in China’s Pearl River Delta as a threat to the region’s health and economic sustainability, citing cases of cancer and bone disease. Experts in Vietnam are concerned that the toxin-littered Dong Nai River awaits a similar fate.

  • Severe flooding in Thailand has claimed 91 lives and affected over 1 million people. Large dams are running near full capacity from the ongoing flood and an unconfirmed number of downstream residents may be forced to relocate.

  • U.S. Senator John Cornyn and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (the chair of the House Committee on Foreign Relations) introduced two new Taiwan bills to Congress ordering an arms sale of 66 F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan and enhancing the Taiwan Relations Act.

  • With elections next year in Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak has promised a series of reforms including: relaxing censorship, guaranteeing freedom of assembly, and dismantling the Internal Security Act, which permitted indefinite detention for those critical of the government.

  • Under the Radar News 09.09.11

    Posted on Friday, September 9, 2011 by Jessica Drun

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • Chinese officials stated that the yuan will be fully convertible by 2015, according to E.U. business executives who met with the delegation. This was revealed soon after China pledged its commitment to create an offshore yuan market in London.

  • The South Korean defense ministry reported North Korea has been developing GPS jammers and electromagnetic pulse bombs, capable of disrupting communication networks. Further investigation found that the DPRK has been using these devices on South Korean GPS systems and even on a U.S. military aircraft.

  • The Indian government plans to tackle its trade imbalance with China by calling for an action plan that aims to draw in Chinese investment while increasing tariffs and raising trade barriers.

  • A U.S. delegation led by Derek Mitchell—U.S. special envoy to Burma— makes its first visit to Naypyidaw to meet with the newly-formed government and democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Mitchell will raise the issue of the country’s poor human rights record to Burmese leaders.

  • Despite the ongoing tension over territorial disputes, the Philippines and China are moving forward with cooperation in oil exploration ventures in the Spratly Islands. The initiative is headed by Sino Petroleum with the approval of the Philippine government and will be conducted under its bylaws.

  • Violence continues in the southern provinces of Thailand as Islamist separatists target moderate Muslims, Buddhist monks, and government supporters. Their goals are unclear; though analysts believe the guerillas are vying for control of the region’s rubber plantations and aiming to set up sharia law.

  • The Democratic Progressive Party’s presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen has chosen Su Jia-chyuan, as her running mate. Su is expected to help garner critical votes from central Taiwan.
  • New DF-31A ICBM Brigade in Hunan?

    Posted on by L.C. Russell Hsiao

    By Mark Stokes and L.C. Russell Hsiao

    Mark Stokes is the executive director and L.C. Russell Hsiao is a senior research fellow at The Project 2049 Institute.

    An amateur photographer posted a video on China’s Youku website on August 24 capturing a probable Dongfeng-31A (DF-31A) convoy transiting downtown Shaoyang (邵阳), a prefecture-level city in Hunan Province (womil.com, August 24, 2011). [1] The video was taped at the intersection of Xihu Road (S217) and Highway G207, and showed a single DF-31 transporter, erector, launcher (TEL) moving north accompanied by six camouflaged support vehicles and a Public Security (公安) escort.

    New 805 Brigade Headquarters?

    The DF-31(A) TEL may have been on its way to a new Second Artillery brigade headquarters facility located in the far western suburbs of the city. Formerly based in Hunan’s Tongdao (通道) County, the 805 Brigade (96313 Unit) initiated construction of new facilities in Shaoyang in 2008 and completed its relocation last year (Shaoyang Daily, August 12, 2010; shaoyangtv.com, February 11, 2010; shaoyang.gov.cn, August 12, 2010). Older facilities in Tongdao County were being dismantled in 2010 (tdsfxz.gov.cn, January 11, 2011).

    805 Brigade Leadership & Structure

    Senior Colonel Yi Decai (易德才) has served as the 805 Brigade commander since as early as 2007 (shaoyang.gov.cn, August 12, 2010; sygyy.com, November 23, 2010). He formerly commanded the 55 Base’s nuclear warhead depot and before that served as 814 Brigade (96315 Unit, Huitong) chief of staff. The 805 Brigade’s political commissar, Colonel Dai Weide (戴伟德), previously served as political commissar of the 55 Base’s warhead storage regiment [2]—a key stepping stone for future leadership positions—and overlapped with Yi Decai (Science and Technology Daily, January 11, 2011; Science and Technology Daily, July 8, 2010; Science and Technology Daily, July 13, 2010; Shaoyang Daily, August 12, 2010). Reporting from early 2011 indicates that the 805 Brigade chief of staff is Lu Yi’nian (卢义年), who formerly served as a battalion commander. The brigade’s senior engineer is Ma Zhaodong (马朝东). The brigade oversees six launch battalions, a communications battalion, a site management battalion, technical battalion, and a technical support battalion. Nuclear warheads that the unit would employ are maintained in a specialized storage facility.

    Function of Operational Regiments

    The DF-31 and DF-31A are assumed to carry only a single nuclear warhead, which do not appear to be mated with missiles during peacetime. The 55 Base’s 905 Regiment— euphemistically referred to as an Equipment Inspection Regiment—maintains the 55 Base’s inventory of ballistic missiles and limited number of nuclear warheads in underground facilities. The 55 Base Technical Service Regiment (96322 Unit) has responsibility for transporting warheads and missile sections from 905 Regiment depot facilities to launch brigades when ordered to do so. The brigade’s technical battalion assembles missile sections and mates them with warheads in underground facilities maintained by the brigade’s site management battalion. The missile is subsequently hoisted and loaded into the brigade’s TELs, which are rolled out to pre-surveyed launch sites. The brigade’s communications battalion is tasked with ensuring the brigade commander and political commissar maintain constant communication links internally within the brigade and externally with upper echelons.

    Moving toward DF-31(A)?

    The 805 Brigade is said to have previously been equipped with the liquid fueled, two staged DF-4 (NATO designation: CSS-3) intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM). With a range of at least 5,500 kilometers (km), the DF-4 is capable of reaching targets throughout the Asia-Pacific region, including U.S. facilities on Guam. State media reporting indicates that the 805 Brigade began planning for the conversion to a new missile system at least as early as 2007. The conversion reflects a broader trend in the shift from liquid- to solid-fueled missiles that are road/rail-mobile, and capable of being launched more rapidly. A submarine launched variant of the DF-31, the JL-2, is still being flight-tested.

    Since integrating the new missile system, the 805 Brigade has implemented an aggressive training program. In July 2010, the brigade conducted an exercise involving rapid response, mobility, and survivability. During the second week of March 2011, the brigade carried out tactical mobility training involving night time operations under communications jamming conditions. In April 2011, another exercise tested the unit’s ability to counter enemy space surveillance assets. The brigade appears to have been involved in acceptance testing in 2009, which likely involved live fire exercises, and formally introduced the new missile variant into its inventory in 2010.

    The 805 Brigade may be the third known Second Artillery unit equipped with a type of DF-31. The first unit equipped with DF-31 was likely the 54 Base’s 813 Brigade, based in Nanyang, Henan Province. The Nanyang brigade received its first missiles for operational test and evaluation as early as 2003, and achieved initial operational capability by 2006. Senior Colonel Wang Zhanxiang (王占祥) oversaw the Nanyang brigade’s integration of the DF-31 in the early 2000s. Promoted in 2009, Major General Wang now serves as 55 Base Senior Engineer. A second unit—the 812 Brigade (96363 Unit), located in Tianshui, Gansu Province—was probably the first to be equipped with the extended range DF-31A variant. Previously based in Delingha (Qinghai Province) and equipped with the DF-4, the 812 Brigade began its transition to Tianshui as early as 2001 and completed conversion to the DF-31A in the 2007 timeframe. (NOTE: The Second Artillery brigade currently based in Delingha–the 96367 Unit–appears to be the Second Artillery’s Northwest Test and Training Base.)

    As a side note, Chinese government publications indicate the possible establishment of a test and evaluation unit (试训队) under the 54 Base, headquartered in Luoyang, Henan Province. Located within Xinyang City in southeastern Henan, the test and evaluation unit may be introducing a new missile variant into the Second Artillery Force’s operational inventory. The U.S. Department of Defense has reported in the Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011 that China is currently developing a new road-mobile ICBM, possibly capable of carrying a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV).

    Comments

    The presence the DF-31(A) convoy in Shaoyang augments reporting of the 805 Brigade’s conversion to a new missile variant, and appears to confirm the retirement of the DF-4 and initial introduction of the DF-31(A) to Hunan’s 55 Base. Beyond improved survivability, replacement of the DF-4 with the DF-31(A) increases the number of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles that could be dedicated to a regional scenario, and possibly the United States, in a crisis situation. According to the 2010 DoD report, the Second Artillery had approximately 10-15 DF-31 and 10-15 DF-31A missiles in the active inventory. [3] Each brigade is presumably equipped with 12 launchers (six launch battalions, two subordinate companies each, and with each company assigned one launcher). Estimates of China’s ICBM inventory appear to be based upon the assumption of roughly one missile per launcher (or silo). The Shaoyang brigade is likely equipped along similar lines as the first two DF-31 units.

    Notes:

    1. Based on the video, it is difficult to determine the specific DF-31 variant.
    2. The unique nature of nuclear operations places a premium on personnel reliability, which is a prime responsibility of the political commissar system.
    3. It is interesting to note, however, that the most recent DoD report credits China with 50-75 ICBMs, with ranges between 5,400 and 13,000 km.

    This post updates and corrects previous Asia Eye posting.

    Under the Radar News 09.02.11

    Posted on Friday, September 2, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia


  • Philippines President Aquino visited China this week to peacefully resolve territorial disputes. He urged the world’s number two economy to invest in the Philippines and a five year $60 billion trade and investment plan is underway.

  • Last month an Indian Naval Ship confronted the Chinese Navy while sailing in international waters in the South China Sea. While China ordered the warship to change course, India has called for adherence to principles of international law.

  • Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda entered office this week, pledging to deepen the U.S.-Japan alliance and making a plea for unity in his divided DPJ party.

  • Typhoon Nanmadol stormed through the Philippines, Taiwan, and China this week resulting in seventeen deaths and devastating floods. Taiwan’s recovery from the tropical storm was further delayed by a 5.3 scale earthquake that hit on Wednesday.

  • China is set to pass new legislation that will allow police to hold political dissidents in secret detention centers.

  • In an effort to ease tensions following South China Sea disputes and political riots, China and Vietnam are planning a defense hotline to promote bilateral defense cooperation.

  • North Korea and Russia plan to increase naval cooperation specifically: joint search and rescue exercises and humanitarian drills.

  • Taiwanese Presidential Candidate Tsai Ing-wen urges a slower pace for Cross-Strait relations. Her comments are in response to President Ma Ying-jeou’s fast-track trade and tourism agreements with China earlier this year.

  • Under the Radar News 09.02.11

    Posted on by Isabella Mroczkowski

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia


  • Philippines President Aquino visited China this week to peacefully resolve territorial disputes. He urged the world’s number two economy to invest in the Philippines and a five year $60 billion trade and investment plan is underway.

  • Last month an Indian Naval Ship confronted the Chinese Navy while sailing in international waters in the South China Sea. While China ordered the warship to change course, India has called for adherence to principles of international law.

  • Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda entered office this week, pledging to deepen the U.S.-Japan alliance and making a plea for unity in his divided DPJ party.

  • Typhoon Nanmadol stormed through the Philippines, Taiwan, and China this week resulting in seventeen deaths and devastating floods. Taiwan’s recovery from the tropical storm was further delayed by a 5.3 scale earthquake that hit on Wednesday.

  • China is set to pass new legislation that will allow police to hold political dissidents in secret detention centers.

  • In an effort to ease tensions following South China Sea disputes and political riots, China and Vietnam are planning a defense hotline to promote bilateral defense cooperation.

  • North Korea and Russia plan to increase naval cooperation specifically: joint search and rescue exercises and humanitarian drills.

  • Taiwanese Presidential Candidate Tsai Ing-wen urges a slower pace for Cross-Strait relations. Her comments are in response to President Ma Ying-jeou’s fast-track trade and tourism agreements with China earlier this year.

  • Under the Radar News 08.26.11

    Posted on Friday, August 26, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • South Korean President Lee Myung-bak embarked on his three-country tour of Central Asia. He elevated South Korean and Mongolian relations to "comprehensive partnership" status and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) calling for greater cooperation in natural resource development, infrastructure investment, and defense. President Lee also signed a $4.1 billion deal to develop Uzbekistan’s Surgil gas fieldand two $4 billion deals to develop a thermal power plant and petrochemical complex in Kazakhstan.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-il holds talks with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow to end Pyongyang’s nuclear programs. The two leaders also discussed building a natural gas pipeline from Vladivstok to Seoul.

  • Amidst South China Sea tensions the Philippines and Vietnam boost their defense capabilities. This week, Vietnam acquired the Gepard class frigate from Russia. The guided missile frigate is Vietnam’s most modern warship. Meanwhile the Philippines acquired the Hamilton-class cutter, a weather high endurance cutter, from the U.S.

  • Two Chinese fishing ships entered Japan’s territorial waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands sparking a formal protest by Japan. The encroachment was a reminder of last year’s incident in which a Chinese fishing boat collided with a Japanese coast guard vessel, severing relations between the two nations.

  • The Philippines may have $1 trillion of untapped mineral resources in Mindanao, the site of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, (MILF). U.S. Representative Jerry Trenas argues that government-initiated peace talks with the MILF can propel the Philippines from "third world status to economic powerhouse."

  • Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan resigns after necessary precondition—a renewable energy bill—passes. The new bill will subsidize electricity from renewable sources and facilitate Japan’s shift away from nuclear power after the Fukushima reactor meltdowns in March.

  • The 2011 Pentagon report on Chinese military buildup reveals China deployed nuclear capable CSS-5 MRBM missiles on India’s border as a “deterrent posture.” The report also warns that Chinese infrastructure investments on the border while aimed at facilitating economic development, may also support PLA border defense operations.
  • Japan's Energy Outlook Post 3-11

    Posted on Thursday, August 25, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

    Japan is on energy conservation mode. Government buildings are dark and thermostats are set to 28 degrees Celsius. Due to a lack of public support and new maintenance measures, only 17 of 51 nuclear plants are currently operational. Before March 2011 nuclear power accounted for 31 percent of Japan’s electric energy needs.

    In the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that triggered radiation leaks at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daichi plant, public support for nuclear power has plummeted. In a June public poll Asahi Shimbun, a prominent Japanese news media outlet, revealed that 74 percent of the Japanese public supports a policy to phase out nuclear power “with a goal to abandon it.” Just as the 1970s oil crisis spurred innovation in nuclear energy in Japan, the Fukushima disaster presents Japan with the opportunity to diversify its energy sources.

    With the future of nuclear power unclear, Japan is exploring renewable energy as an alternative to fill the energy gap. A bill that would incentive private investment in renewable energy was voted into law on August 26th. The bill proposes a “feed-in tariffs” mechanism, which requires utilities such as TEPCO, to purchase electricity generated by geothermal, solar, and wind sources at a tariff-rate. By promulgating renewable energy and setting a favorable tariff rate (still to be determined) the government is encouraging investment in renewable energy businesses and fostering an environment in which renewable energy can compete with conventional fossil fuel technologies.

    With overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill, TEPCO is investing in renewable energy sources to ensure its own supply of energy. Just this month TEPCO began operating its Ukishima Solar Power plant. The plant will generate 7,400 Megawatt Hours (MwH) per year, which is the equivalent energy consumption of 2,100 households per annum. Additionally, TEPCO is also constructing another solar power plant, the Ohigishima Plant, which is nearly double the size of Ukishima and will generate 17,700 MwH when it commences operation in December.

    Despite this apparent shift toward renewable energy, TEPCO does not possess an adequate supply of renewable energy sources to meet consumer demand. Private companies such as Softbank Corporation, a Japanese telecommunications and media Corporation, and Rakuten Inc., Japan’s largest online shopping site, seek to address this gap and break into Japan’s growing solar energy market. Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son recently announced plans to invest $1 billion on 10 solar farms. Softbank plans to convert 20 percent of the 540,000 hectares of rice paddies currently not in production to generate 50 million kilowatts. Meanwhile, Rakuten is planning to sell home-use solar panels later this year.

    With government support, not only will solar power become an increasingly feasible alternative to nuclear power, but it also bolsters Japan’s Kyoto pledge to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In September 2009, under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Japan pledged 25 percent reduction in green house gas (GHG) emissions by 2020 compared with the 1990 level. This ambitious goal, however, was coupled with a plan for nuclear energy to comprise 60 percent of primary energy by 2100 (compared with 10 percent now.) However, with a majority of its nuclear plants in decommission, TEPCO is relying on thermal power plants to supply electric energy. By utilizing liquefied petroleum gas (LNG), coal, and oil, thermal power plants have led to an increase in carbon emissions and weakened Japan’s commitments to the Kyoto CO2 pledge. By further developing renewable energy sources, Japan would demonstrate its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and the country’s mission of “lead[ing] the world in the low-carbon revolution.”

    While solar power appears to be the great panacea for Japan’s energy dilemma, questions about its sustainability and efficiency remain. Building new high-voltage electric transmission lines for potentially remote solar plants will require consumers to shoulder high utility costs. In addition to infrastructure costs, the actual cost of producing one 1 kWh of power through solar energy is greater relative to other energy sources. For example, the home solar power system, such as the one proposed by Rakaten Inc., would cost ¥40 ($0.52) per KwH, which is an 82.5 percent increase from the ¥7 ($0.09) per KwH cost of nuclear energy.The viability of solar power as a replacement for nuclear power source also depends on the way prices are set within the feed-in tariff bill. The Keidanren, Japan’s largest business lobby, has warned that higher energy prices will undermine Japan’s heavy industry competitiveness.Yet another factor in Japan’s shift toward renewable energy is the country’s forthcoming new leadership. While Prime Minister Naoto Kan has advocated for a “nuclear-free society” it remains to be seen whether his successor will place the same value on renewable energy.

    In the final analysis, renewable energy is a practical response to Japan’s energy needs post- March 11. Japan is renowned for its capabilities as an innovative nation and its potential in the renewable energy sector marks no exception. The shift toward renewable energy will allow Japan to resume its global leadership role as an innovator and as a major proponent in the fight against global warming and climate change. In spite of the challenges in transitioning from nonrenewable to renewable energy, the long term benefit outweighs the near term costs. The March 11th disaster is an opportunity for Japan to rebuild, improve, and reposition itself as a global power.


    Image: Shinjuku district skyline behind solar panels.
    Source: Getty Images

    Under the Radar News 08.19.11

    Posted on Friday, August 19, 2011 by Isabella Mroczkowski

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia.

  • China’s Dalian city government closed a chemical plant in response to a large protest of around 12,000 city dwellers. The chemical factory manufactures paraxylene, a crucial ingredient in polyester, which can cause eye and nose irritation, and in higher concentrations, death.

  • Earlier this week Vietnamese authorities allowed 100 protesters to march in the 10th anti-China rally since June, which criticized Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. Yet when protesters spoke out against the Communist party and state, authorities ordered an end to the anti-China protests, citing ‘division in national unity and Vietnam-China relations.’

  • Chinese security forces launch a massive crackdown in Xinjiang, where the annual China-Eurasia Expo will take place in September. Recent waves of violence have left more than 30 dead. The Chinese government blames unrest on Islamic extremism, while the Uighur populations cite Chinese repression.

  • China develops nation’s first deep water natural gas field, “Liwan 3-1,” in the South China Sea. The field will produce an estimated 20 billion cubic meters of gas when it starts production in 2013.

  • Approximately 3,000 North Korean laborers are reportedly working in Vladivostock, Russia on construction projects (Vladivostock is the host of the 2012 APEC Summit).Pyongyang is sending its workers abroad to raise foreign currency based on 3-5 year contracts, in exchange the government gets a portion of their earnings.

  • Japan’s five-year science and technology program excludes prior plans to promote next-generation nuclear technologies. The new plan along with legislation calling for subsidies on renewable energy reflect Prime Minister Kan’s calls to shift from nuclear power towards developing renewable energy sources.

  • Taiwan’s annual budget for 2012 sets asides 16 percent of spending for defense, marking the first year-to-year rise since President Ma Ying-jeou came to office.

  • As part of Independence Day celebrations, Indonesia has reduced the sentences of 84 convicted terrorists, including Mohammed Jibril Abdurahman, an Al-Qaeda linked extremist.

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