Under the Radar 12.17.12

Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 by Henna Sharif

A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

  • North Korea’s missile launch last week brought about strong concerns from the international community. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin said Wednesday's missile had a range of about 10,000 kilometers, which would be enough range to reach the mainland U.S., deepening U.S. concerns on the issue.

  • On Sunday, voters in Japan returned power to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the parliamentary election. Public broadcaster NHK said the LDP grabbed 294 spots in the lower house and the ousted Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won only 57. Shinzo Abe, party president of the LDP, is slated to become the country’s prime minister for the second time.

  • Anti-China protests took place in Vietnam in response to what is seen as Chinese aggression and expansionism. Although the protests were quickly stopped, public anger has been growing in Vietnam over issues including maritime claims in the region, the sabotage of the PetroVietnam survey vessel, and the new Chinese passports infringing the sovereignty of other nations.

  • Li Chuncheng has been removed from his post as deputy Party secretary of Sichuan Province in China and is suspected of "serious violations of discipline." Li is alleged to have bribed supervisors for promotion and taken kickbacks from the construction industry. He is the highest-level official to be sacked since Xi Jinping vowed to crack down on graft when he was elected as head of the ruling party last month.

  • India is investigating how Swedish-made weapons bought by its army turned up in Myanmar (Burma), a minister visiting Yangon said Dec. 15. The minister denies New Delhi had supplied arms in contravention of EU sanctions. Sweden asked India to clarify how the weapons wound up in Myanmar after being informed by the Swedish Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls that the weapons had come from India.

  • The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will help vulnerable communities in Cambodia raise their ability to respond to and cope with natural disasters by providing a $35 million U.S. dollar loan to manage risks stemming from extreme floods and droughts. The Cambodia project includes upgrade to irrigation systems and other infrastructure, a strengthened national flood forecasting center, and training and support to farmers for community-based disaster risk management.

  • Former Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has been charged with murder over the death of a taxi driver shot by soldiers during political violence when thousands of protesters took to the streets in 2010 demanding his government step down. He gave orders allowing troops to use live ammunition on protesters, who had shut down parts of Bangkok.
  • Under the Radar 12.10.12

    Posted on Monday, December 10, 2012 by Henna Sharif

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

  • Satellite images have shown an increase in activity at a North Korean missile launch site. North Korea plans to launch a missile in an attempt to put a polar-orbiting observation satellite into space. The international community has warned of the violations to UN Security Council restrictions and are preparing for any deviations from the launch trajectory.

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) opened its 11th prime ministers' meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The meeting laid the foundation for future development of the SCO including enhancing mutual trust, cooperation and common prosperity, while maintaining peace and stability among its member states.

  • U.S. and Chinese armed forces held a joint tabletop exercise on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This was the 8th exercise between the Chinese and American armed forces since 1997. The drill involved a joint rescue and relief operation after an earthquake.

  • The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) are in talks to jointly launch a humanitarian mission for refugees of the deadly conflict between the Rohingya and Rakhine ethnic groups in Myanmar. The violence between the Buddhist Rakhines and the Muslim Rohingyas has claimed more than 80 lives, displaced 22,000 people and damaged 4,600 houses. The organizations would send food and help rebuild homes in the area.

  • The U.S. has exempted Taiwan from complying with sanctions it has imposed on Iran, but encouraged Taipei to keep reducing its Iranian oil imports. The U.S. called on Taiwan to continue limiting its relations with Iran as a new area of cooperation between the two countries to ensure global security.

  • In a Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted in Japan prior to the 16 December House of Representatives elections, the opposition-Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) could win more than a working majority of seats. According to the survey, the LDP is poised to lead both the single-seat constituency and the proportional representation section. The survey also indicated that the New Komeito Party will have a firm hold of its seats.

  • In the 11th Vietnam-UK dialogue, both countries discussed prevention and fighting against corruption. British Ambassador to Vietnam Antony Stokes made assessments on Vietnam's anti-corruption work, noting three major developments including a revision of the Law on Anti-corruption; reports on anti-corruption with in-depth analysis and research made public; and commitment made by local authorities to anti-corruption.

  • A gas tanker has sailed through the Arctic waters, demonstrating the seas utility as a Suez Canal alternative and providing a Northeast sea route linking Europe and Asia. The route is not without political tensions as Russia continues to look for proof that the Lomonosov and Mendeleev ridges are part of Russia’s continental shelf.
  • Under the Radar 12.3.12

    Posted on Monday, December 3, 2012 by Henna Sharif

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

  • More trouble was stirred up last week over China’s new passports, which highlights the territories that Beijing claims belong to the People’s Republic of China. These areas include India’s Arunachal Pradesh state and Taiwan, and the waters of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia. Such actions by Chinese authorities continue to demonstrate China’s persistence in its claims over the South China Sea.

  • South Korean and U.S. intelligence are keeping a close watch on North Korea as it prepares to launch its own rocket. Satellite imagery has shown an increase in activity at North Korea's Sohae Satellite Launch Station (also known as the Tongchang-ri launch station), which was used in the unsuccessful launch attempt in April. Another launch attempt is predicted in the next few weeks.

  • China will launch a campaign for the study, promotion and implementation of the spirit of the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) among its entire military. The General Political Department of the People's Liberation Army will send publicity teams to army units across the country to give lectures on the spirit of the congress, focusing on upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics and the important significance of the 18th CCP National Congress to the development of the Party, the country and the army.

  • South Korea’s nuclear envoy visited China to discuss the Korean Peninsula and North Korea. With the increased activity at a North Korean missile launch site, the talks will include a focus on China’s policy towards North Korea.

  • Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra survived a no-confidence vote orchestrated by her opponents in parliament who accused her of failing to crack down on graft. Yingluck was accused by the main opposition Democrat Party of overseeing corruption – particularly in a controversial government rice purchase scheme – and of being the puppet of her brother.

  • Pakistan, Afghanistan and China met at the second meeting of the Trilateral Dialogue. Issues discussed included the regional situation with a focus on Afghanistan, the role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a counter-narcotics campaign, and the importance of continued dialogue for peace and stability in the region.

  • The United States welcomes China’s participation in U.S.-led joint naval Rim of the Pacific Exercise in 2014. The invitation appears intended to reassure China about the U.S. strategic pivot to the Pacific. “Cooperating with China to realize shared goals is important to the maintenance of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and central to our approach,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said.

  • Mynamar’s government immigration officials are conducting a census-like operation in the island village of Sin Thet Maw verifying the citizenship of the Muslims living in the village. This has been of concern for the Rohingyas, who are originally from Bangladesh and viewed as foreigners in Burma. However, President Thein Sein has promised to consider new rights for the Rohingya, as stated in a letter to the United Nations
  • Under The Radar 11.26.12

    Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 by Henna Sharif

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

  • On the eve of the East Asia Summit, India granted its support to the proposed Code of Conduct between ASEAN and China to govern the use of the resource-rich South China Sea. A majority of ASEAN members support the Code of Conduct, which seeks to internationalize South China Sea issues and advocates for a multilateral approach. China has staunchly advocated for bilateral dialogue.

  • In his first overseas trip since re-election, President Barack Obama visited the East Asia region to participate in the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh. The trip underlines the strategic re-balancing to Asia and the U.S.’s diplomatic and security commitments to the region. President Obama also became the first U.S. president to visit Burma (Myanmar), where he met with Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein and discussed the nation’s path of democratic re-engagement. He also met with Cambodian Prime Miniser Hun Sen for discussions on human rights and democracy.

  • China is set to emerge as the world’s largest nuclear power generator by 2020. Policy planning and third generation power plants that produce electricity more cheaply than coal and gas plants, have spurred growth in the nuclear energy sector. Despite increased nuclear energy generation targets, coal will continue to comprise the bulk of China’s energy supply.

  • South Korea, China and Japan, three of the world’s largest economies, have agreed to launch discussions on a free trade agreement (FTA). The trilateral FTA, while unlikely to dissolve political tensions, demonstrates a desire to limit the economic fallout from territorial disputes and nationalist sentiments. The first discussions will take place in South Korea in March 2013.

  • In the backdrop of upcoming national elections in Japan, Toru Hashimoto’s Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Shintaro Ishihara’s Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party) have merged into one political party. Despite divergent stances on policy issues such as the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and the future of nuclear energy, Hashimoto and Ishihara’s merge demonstrates party efforts to be a viable third force in upcoming elections.

  • During the East Asia Summit, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced a $615 million low-interest, long-term government loan to Burma (Myanmar). The loan will largely be used for infrastructure projects that will enable Japanese companies to further invest in Burma. The new loan comes after an earlier Japanese announcement to waive $3.5 billion of Burma’s unpaid loans.

  • Independent South Korean presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo on Friday announced his abrupt withdrawal from the presidential campaign and his endorsement of Rep. Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP). His withdrawal clears the way for a two-way race with ruling party hopeful Park Geun-hye in the Dec. 19 polls.

  • Chinese fighter jets successfully landed on the Liaoning aircraft carrier while it was at sea. This marks the first official confirmation that China has mastered the technology and technical skills necessary to operate fighters from a carrier at sea. The feat further demonstrates the Middle Kingdom's progress towards becoming a global military power.
  • Under The Radar 11.19.12

    Posted on Monday, November 19, 2012 by Lucy Wen-Chin Lo

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • At a Washington forum on Asia policy in the second term of the Obama administration, National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon said that North Korea can imitate Myanmar-style reform in economic development. Both North Korea and Myanmar(Burma) have been in isolation and under sanctions by the U.S., and reforms in North Korea’s economic sector could allow for its reentry into the international community.

    • Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino urged Southeast Asian countries to present a united front against China over the South China Sea issues. "We can talk to the other claimants that aren't ASEAN members but since we want to maintain ASEAN's centrality, we must have just one voice in Asean... in this regard," President Aquino told reporters.

    • The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, and the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Army Gen. James D. Thurman, visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Dempsey also met with his South Korean counterpart, Jung Seung-jo, to discuss the success of the U.S.-Korea alliance and an alternative joint command system between the two forces after the expected transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) to Seoul starting in 2015.

    • North Korea is suspected of attempting to ship graphite cylinders, ballistic missile components to a Syrian company. The cylinders were disguised as lead pipes in a Chinese ship, which was uncovered by South Korean authorities in the port city of Busan. The shipment violates UN sanctions against North Korea. China has promised to investigate the incident, which was reported last month to the UN Security Council North Korea sanctions committee.

    • Preceding a visit from U.S. President Barack Obama, the Burmese government began releasing prisoners under an amnesty. However, the extent of these releases is still uncertain with an estimate of 300 prisoners still in jail. Human rights groups continue to criticize the release of prisoners, stating that they are lying about the release of political prisoners.

    • The National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in Singapore estimates that there may be a need to increase the number of foreign manpower in Singapore particularly in health care, construction, and domestic help sectors. NGOs express concern on the quality of foreign manpower that would come to Singapore while the country strives to increase productivity.

    Under the Radar 11.13.12

    Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 by Lucy Wen-Chin Lo

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • A Japan-proposed resolution calling for joint action to eliminate all nuclear weapons was passed in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly. Four nuclear powers including the U.S., Britain, France and Russia were among the 159 countries that voted for the resolution, while China together with 11 countries like India, Pakistan and Israel abstained. North Korea was the only country that voted against the resolution.
    • The number of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) delegates from the private sector has doubled from 17 in the 17th Party Congress to 34 in the 18th Party Congress. Since 2001, the CCP has started to assimilate private entrepreneurs into the participation of Party’s decision making process.
    • The Chinese delegation was absent in this year’s Tokyo Defense Forum (TDF). Japan's Minister of Defense Satoshi Morimoto said that he hoped that senior Chinese officials would attend to exchange ideas on new security challenges. TDR has been annually held by Japan’s Ministry of Defense since 1996. This year, the forum focused on U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific region.
    • Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand plan to accelerate the joint development of the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) with the formation of a high-level joint committee. Myanmar Vice President U Nyan Tun’s visited Thailand last week and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that prioritized certain sectors for development. The SEZ project includes steel mills, refineries, a petrochemical complex and powerplants, and is expected to be completed by 2018. The project also includes the construction of the Dawei deep-sea port, which would shorten the transportation route to Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
    • The UN Security Council ordered sanctions against the Haqqani militant group. The Haqqani militant network in Afghanistan was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani and now led by Qari Zakir. The group is responsible for sophisticated attacks on the Afghan government and NATO forces. The sanctions include a freeze on Haqqani assets, an arms embargo and a travel ban against Zakir.
    • According to a series of recent polls, South Koreans in their 30s – compared to others segments of the population – are ostensibly less conservative in terms of their views toward North Korea. Experts say that people now in their 30s were taught progressive ideas during college by the older generation who participated in the country’s democratic movements, and had to face the turmoil of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which helped to cultivate their strong anti-establishment views.
    • At the ninth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao urged for further cooperation on energy security and disaster prevention and mitigation with European countries. Asian countries have acquired experiences in disaster prevention while European countries have high-tech products in the field. Wen suggested three-point proposal on how the two sides could cooperate in the future.

    Under the Radar 11.05.12

    Posted on Monday, November 5, 2012 by Hong Hanh Dinh

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia. 

    • A closer business tie appears to be developing between the United Kingdom and China as the China Investment Corporation (CIC) recently bought a 10% state in the Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd, previously known as BAA Ltd. Unlike other countries that have been more protective of national assets from Chinese investments, the UK has displayed an open attitude towards the influx of capital. Amidst the Euro Crisis, the UK has remained a relatively stable investment environment, a very attractive sign for foreign firms during the economic slowdown.  
    • About 30 foreign ambassadors and other delegates were invited to Pyongyang to watch a musical performance that celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the prestigious Kim Il Sung Military University. Seated closely to the new North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, this is an unconventional move from such a closed society since only Russian and Chinese ambassadors were permitted in the past. This may be interpreted as the new regime's efforts to be more open to the international community.
    • With the upcoming leadership transition, Chinese leaders are taking no chances as they render a lists of stringent rules restrictions to stem all possible threats to stability. Elite paranoia over propaganda leaflets has barred the use of any handles for rear windows in taxis, balloons, remote control model planes, and pigeons must be caged when congress starts. These concerns stems from the political dissidents in southern China that released pigeons, carrying slogans written on ribbons tied to the birds' feet in the late 1990's. 

    • After strong criticism of inaction, China has reportedly proposed a set of new initiatives to stem the violence in Syria. The initiatives were presented to Lakhdar Brahimi, the Algerian veteran United Nations peace envoy and advisor on Syria, and include “concrete” suggestions to resolve the 19-month old conflict. China will not change its stance on its opposition to the conviction of Assad's government, but is rather pushing efforts towards "a ceasefire region by region and phase by phase, and establishing a transitional governing body," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

    • Constitutional reform is under debate among the South Korean presidential candidates vying in the upcoming elections in mid-December. There is current discussion regarding the possibility of future presidents serving two four-year terms in office, a bicameral legislative system to enhance the rights of provinces, and additional clauses to enhance basic rights.The current ruling Saenuri Party candidate, Park Geun-hye, is assessing outdated elements of the constitution and is in favor of a two-term presidential system. Main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) candidate Moon Jae-in also advocates for a two-term presidency, along with a vice president. However, independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo remains reserved on this issue.
    • Peace between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Philippine's largest Muslim insurgent group, is moving forward as the two sides signed an agreement calling for the creation of a new autonomous regional government, to be called "Bangsamoro," that will replace the failed Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The shape and size of the new Bangsamoro region will be decided through a plebiscite by 2015.

    Under The Radar 10.31.12

    Posted on Wednesday, October 31, 2012 by Lucy Wen-Chin Lo

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • Clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists continued to spread in Myanmar (Burma). The Burmese government attempted to resolve the conflict caused by the rape of a Buddhist woman in late May by segregating the two communities.

    • North Korea has reportedly taken a step forward with its special economic and trade zone with the establishment of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone Management Committee. The special economic and trade zone will be jointly developed and operated by North Korea and China.

    • Former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai was stripped of party membership for alleged power abuse, corruption, bribe-taking and involvement in his wife’s murder of a British businessman. The decision was reportedly made by the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party and the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and Chongqing Municipal People's Congress. More than 700 leftist academics and former officials sent an open letter that condemned the central government’s action as legally inappropriate and politically motivated.

    • Greenpeace claimed that the Japanese government underestimated the radiation levels in areas near the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The environmental group advised the government to be more efficient and effective in decontamination.

    • Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba embarked on a European tour to France, England and Germany in seek of support for his government’s position in the East China Sea dispute with China. France, England and Germany did not express clear support for Japanese claim of sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Island.

    • Following a surprise visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to Dokdo/Takeshima Islands in August, South Korean MPs made a follow on visit on October 23. The trip was reportedly for checking security measures around the Islands. However, a photo released showed South Korean lawmakers wielding placards reading “Dokdo is our land. We will defend it.”

    • UN peacekeepers in Timor-Leste are being withdrawn over the next two months as the international body hands over full policing responsibility to the Timor-Leste government. There will be no UN peacekeepers left in the country by December 15, according to head of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).

    Under The Radar 10.23.12

    Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 by Lucy Wen-Chin Lo

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • The White House denied a report cited by Reuters that cleared Huawei of spying on the US. The report claimed that there was no evidence of the telecommunication company actively spying on behalf of China. However, the White House rebutted that no “classified inquiry” has been conducted so far that cleared any telecommunication company, including Huawei.

    • Ralls Corporation, a company controlled by Chinese engineering giant Sany, was blocked from a wind farm investment project in Oregon due to US national security concerns. Ralls has subsequently sued President Barack Obama and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) on grounds that the rejection was an act of discrimination and a political show.

    • After Malala Yousufzai – a teenage Pakistani rights activist – was shot by Taliban militants. Pakistani opposition party PML-N lodged strong criticism against the ruling coalition government for not adequately dealing with domestic militancy. A resolution was introduced for deliberation to the National Assembly in the hopes of forging more practical policies against Taliban militant forces.

    • Kim Han-sol, the 17-year-old grandson of Kim Jong-il, was interviewed by the former defense minister of Finland, Elisabeth Rehn. Kim is currently enrolled in the UN-sponsored United World College in Bosnia-Herzegovina. During the interview, Han-sol expressed how his international friends have expanded his worldviews and the dream of the unification of the Koreas. He also spoke of his early childhood in North Korea and Macau, explaining that he did not know his paternal grandfather was and never had a chance to meet him.

    • Following Myanmar’s (Burma) President Thein Sein and opposition parliamentary leader Aung San Suu Kyi visits to the US, the two countries made a step forward in bilateral relations by holding a dialogue over human rights issues in Nay Pyi Taw. The talk covered protection of labor rights, protection of civilians in conflict zones and humanitarian assistance to those regions. Implementation of the rule of law and matters related to prisoners were also included.

    • South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made his first visit to Yeonpyeong Island in a surprise move that officials say was intended to exert stricter military discipline on the front-line. President Lee expressed his firm stance on safeguarding the Northern Limit Line (NLL) for building peace in the region and the unification of Korea.

    • Japan declined to endorse the draft statement made by 16 countries to make atomic weapons illegal. The statement called on all states to "intensify their efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons." Although Japan is the only country that suffered from atomic attacks, it is concerned that the initiative would affect its security arrangement with the US. According to Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines, “as long as nuclear weapons exist, the extended deterrence provided by the United States, will be indispensable.”

    • Tamdrin Dorjee set himself on fire and died near the Tsoe monastery in China's north-west Gansu province. He is considered the grandfather of the seventh Gungthang Rinpoche, the reincarnation of an important religious figure to Tibetan Buddhists. “More than 50 ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire since such protests began in 2009.”

    Under The Radar 10.15.12

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 by Hong Hanh Dinh

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • Myanmar (Burma) President Thein Sein visits Seoul to meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to negotiate trade and investment opportunities for both nations. South Korea plans to develop gas and power plant projects, and both sides will cooperate on improving energy and resources development, infrastructure and construction. In addition, the two leaders signed a framework agreement on grant aid and a memorandum of understanding to establish Myanmar's first state research think tank on economic development.
    • North Korean fishing boats violates the Northern Limit Line, which the South Korean government claims was intended to stir up tensions and influence the upcoming elections in South Korea. The South Korean government responded firmly to the provocation and stated that it was North Korea's attempt to sway voters towards the opposition, which is more soft-lined towards North Korea.
    • Suggestions to "jointly manage" the disputed Diaoyu/Takeshima islands by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has sparked tensions within his party, Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party). Although Hashimoto believes the islands are Japanese sovereign territories, he believes "sovereignty and utilization are different matters." This has resulted in divided opinions by Japanese experts.
    • Amidst increasing trade barriers against Chinese solar firms set up by the European Union and the U.S., China's top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, has approved several overseas energy projects. Chinese solar firms are now moving towards the establishment of solar power stations in Europe and the U.S. to promote local employment, thereby lessening trade frictions.
    • From 2013-2015, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) will provide $144 million to implement a three year plan in the Kachin, Kayin, Chin, Rakhine and Shan ethnic states of Myanmar (Burma). The plan's three main objectives includes the "eradication of poverty and hunger, assurance of environmental sustainability, and the development of democracy and human rights through good governance."
    • At last week's IMF's semi-annual meeting, the China's central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, withdrew the Chinese delegation in Tokyo that included senior finance officials and state-owned bank representatives. A reaction ostensibly in response to Japan's sovereignty claims over the disputed Diaoyu/Takeshima Islands.
    • China commissions its first aircraft carrier called Liaoning into its navy. Yet, the new aircraft carrier is not yet fully operational due to the absence of an air wing off of its flight deck.
    • As a result of its rice intervention scheme, the Thai government expects a loss of 80 million baht ($3.2 billion). The Thai government bought rice from farmers at 15,000 baht per tonne of paddy, which was well above the 9,000 baht per tonne quoted by traders. This was implemented under the populist scheme last year in order to bring Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to power.

    Under The Radar 10.08.12

    Posted on Thursday, October 11, 2012 by Hong Hanh Dinh

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • China’s ongoing 12th Five-Year Plan (2001-2015) includes an initiative to  rapidly develop a more sustainable, green economy, while promoting domestic consumption that will enhance its domestic market, particularly in the renewable resources industry. Currently, China is the world's largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels, and the largest market for wind power.  
    • Disregarding the 2004 agreement to halt all official-level cross-border propaganda, North Korea sends thousands of propaganda leaflets over the heavily militarized border for the second time this year. Pyongyang criticized the South Korean defense ministry's "anti-Pyongyang" education program for its military, while praising pro-North Korean activists in the South.
    • Frank Hsieh of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is the highest-level opposition politician ever to visit China. The DPP have given mixed reactions and the Chinese state media have remained silent. Hsieh stated his visit was to “build mutual trust." 
    • China continues to closely monitor the water of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands as four more Chinese marine surveillance ships arrives on Tuesday. This was a response to the Japanese right-wingers attempt to enter the islands.
    • The South Korean government plans to run commercials domestically and abroad to defend its sovereightyclaim over the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima Islands. The increase in South Korean public relations is occurring against the backdrop of worsening tensions between the two countries after South Korea rejected Japan's proposal to jointly take the case to the international court. Government sources cited by Japanese media reported that Tokyo is "in its final stage of preparations to unilaterally take the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ)."
    • President Lee Myung-bak and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are collaborating together to build a gas pipeline through North Korea, linking the two nations. Russia agrees to protect the gas pipeline passage through North Korea from any threats. South Korea hopes that cooperation between Russia and North Korea will help ease tensions.  Lee and Medvedev believes this project will bring economic benefits to all three countries, increasing efforts to eventually bring peace to the Korean peninsula.
    • Taiwan joins the 36 countries that the US permits visa-free travel for tourism or business for 90 days. This privilege is not granted to China, who claims Taiwan as its territory. This response may signify US’s elevated stance against China by promoting self-governance to Taiwan, as well as returning the favor to Taiwan after the island lifted restrictions on US beef imports.

    Under The Radar 10.01.12

    Posted on Monday, October 1, 2012 by Lucy Wen-Chin Lo

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • South Korea refused Japanese warships docking rights during an annual four-nation naval drill know as the Proliferation Security Initiative. Seoul suggested the port call was unnecessary and that refusal was based on mutual agreement. The incident occurs in the backdrop of rising nationalism and tensions over the Dokdo/Takeshima islets and it demonstrates the fragility of bilateral ties.
    • Recent missile policy talks between the U.S. and South Korea have made limited progress. Seoul received Washington’s support to extend its ballistic missile range from 300 to 800km while maintaining the scale of the warhead. However, Washington remained in opposition to Seoul’s development of combat drones and civilian solid-fuel rockets. This series of talks will lead up to the joint Security Consultative Meeting where the South Korean and U.S. defense ministers will announce a new missile policy.
    • In the backdrop of the Senkaku (Diaoyu) territorial dispute, China canceled 40th anniversary celebrations honoring the normalization of diplomatic ties with Japan. In place of the lavish, public ceremony, Tang Jiaxuan, head of the China-Japan Friendship Association, met privately with important Japanese figures.
    • China’s State Oceanic Administration plans to expand drone patrol of Chinese waters and build drone surveillance stations in coastal provinces by 2015. By bolstering control of neighboring waters China seeks to expand its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In addition to the Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands, Beijing reiterated its sovereignty over Ieo, an island comprised of submerged rocks that is currently administered by South Korea.
    • As Arctic ice recedes, a new maritime route connecting East Asia to Europe and North America emerges. With an eye towards the future of commercial shipping, South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) is investing heavily in research and development of energy-efficient ice-breaking carriers, capable of navigating Arctic waters. While the emerging route has potential to transform shipping between East and West, legal procedures, lack of infrastructure, and environmental concerns remain to be addressed.
    • Zhou Yongkang, China's domestic security chief, made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, where he met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. During the visit Yongkang pledged Chinese investment in Afghan natural resources and greater security cooperation, particularly in training Afghan National Police after NATO-led coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.
    • In August 2012, the U.S. Congress renewed sanctions legislation against Burma (Myanmar). However, in light of recent political and economic reforms led by President Thein Sein, Washington has lifted import bans against the emerging democracy. The lift is expected to bring more foreign investment to Burma, boost the nation’s economy, and facilitate the normalization of U.S.-Burma relations.
    • With the resettlement of the last group of internally displaced people, Sri Lanka closed the doors of Menik Farm, one of the world’s largest refugee camps. During Sri Lanka’s ethnic war (2006-2009), the camp housed up to 300,000 displaced Tamil refugees. The United Nations welcomed the move as a milestone event ending a chapter of displacement in Sri Lanka’s history.
    • China’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, a refurbished Soviet ship purchased from Ukraine, entered service last week. The carrier symbolizes China’s increasing air and naval capabilities. Military specialists point out, however, that it is still no match to the U.S. eleven Nimitz class carriers.
    • Vietnam sentenced three bloggers, Nguyen Van Hai, Ta Phong Tan and Phan Thanh Hai, to prison for producing "anti-state propaganda." Despite recent economic and political opening, Vietnam is a one-party Communist state where government controls the media and judicial matters.

    Under The Radar 09.25.12

    Posted on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 by Lucy Wen-Chin Lo

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia. 
    • The Japanese government’s purchase of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has sparked violent street protests throughout China as fishing boats were dispatched to the disputed waters to oppose Japan’s nationalization of the contested islands.
    • China hopes to ally with Korea in Seoul’s bid for UN confirmation over Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands when Korea plans to submit documents to UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) to claim its rights to a deep sea trench near Okinawa, which falls under joint jurisdiction with Japan.
    • The honorary chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT), Lien Chan, visited Nanjing. During his meeting with Jia Qinglin, the top political advisor of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Lien expressed Taiwan’s firm stance on safeguarding the sovereignty over the islands in the East China Sea, while Jia called for the two sides to surpass differences and join efforts in safeguarding territorial integrity.
    • Korean software tycoon Ahn Cheol-soo launched an independent presidential bid. Ahn’s candidacy opens up a three-way race between Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party’s and Park Guen-hye of the New Frontier Party. The presidential election will take place in December and the debate thus far centered on how to address social disparity in South Korea.
    • The United States’ largest debt holder, China, boosted its holding of U.S. Treasury bills to $1.15 trillion, while Japan, the second-largest holder of U.S. debt, increased its holding by $7 billion, making its total $1.12 trillion.  
    • The Ministry of Transport of Malaysia and China Southern Railway (CSR) signed a Memorandum of Arrangement on September 24 for the development of a railway complex in Batu, Gajaj and Perak, with an estimated cost of RM 400 million ($63.4 million). The infrastructure development project is expected to create 800 jobs in local support industries. There is growing demand for railway development in ASEAN Countries and the Middle East where altogether an estimated 2,900 new units of railway coaches and locomotives are needed in the next five years.
    • Anti-American protests ignited in Thailand and Indonesia following the film “Innocence of Muslims”was posted online. The Obama administration has denounced the film as ‘disrespectful’, but Google has yet to remove the video due to the right of freedom of expression.
    • Day-long strikes across India led by opposition parties and trade unions highlight public concerns toward the government’s new policy of allowing multinational giant retailers like Wal-Mart and Tesco to reach out directly to Indian customers, ostensibly to avoid the threat of a downgrade in India's credit rating. The business of local retailer shop would be greatly affected by the low price offered by transnational retailer corporations. 
    • The Nobel laureate and Myanmar opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kvi, called for an easing of U.S. sanctions on Burma, so that Burmese people could start consolidating their own democracy without outside pressure on the military government. Meanwhile, some human rights group sees the next election in 2015 as test of whether Burmese generals can hand over power peacefully to civilians.
    • According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice cover melted to its lowest extent this year, breaking the previous record low observed in 2007. This shows a seasonal summer melting, indicating long-term climate warming. 
    • King Pu-tsung, former Kuomintang (KMT) secretary-general, was selected to serve as the new Taiwan (ROC) representative to the United States. According to observers, King was chosen  to minimize interference in U.S.-Taiwan diplomacy and fully implement President Ma’s foreign policies.

    Under The Radar 09.17.12

    Posted on Monday, September 17, 2012 by Michael Chen

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta embarks on a trip to Japan and China aimed at urging both parties to avoid escalation over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute. While in Tokyo, Panetta also confirmed that Japan will host a second land-based x-band radar to defend against ballistic missiles. In China, Panetta is expected to meet with Vice President Xi Jinping, just days after Xi resurfaced in public after a two-week disappearance.
    • Roughly 1,000 fishing boats have reportedly set sail from China and are due to arrive in the waters surrounding the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands before the end of September 17. The fleet could be accompanied by the six Chinese patrol ships that have been stationed near the islands since last week. On Friday, September 14th, those six ships entered the disputed waters that prompted a standoff with the Japanese Coast Guard.
    • Anti-Japan rallies in China have expanded to 85 cities, as angry protestors turn their anger to Japanese stores, restaurants, and even people driving Japanese cars. Even with officials clamping down, violent protests are expected to continue through Tuesday, September 18th, the 81st anniversary of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria.
    • Moon Jae-in, a close ally and former aide to South Korea’s late president Roh Moo-hyun, handily secured the main opposition party, the Democratic United Party’s nomination for president. In his acceptance speech, Moon raised “fairness and justice” as his theme, vowing to continue Roh’s work by ending corruption, expanding welfare, punishing “politically motivated prosecutors,” and seeking peace with North Korea. Moon’s challenge, pundits say, is to consolidate opposition forces to rally behind him. Sources close to entrepreneur-turned-professor Ahn Cheol-soo have said that the popular political outsider will make a formal decision soon on whether to throw his hat in the ring.
    • Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Intelligence on September 13th accused Chinese telecoms Huawei and ZTE of spying for Beijing through computer equipment. Rep. Michael Rogers, chairman of the Committee on Intelligence, said the two companies could be compelled to assist China’s government if asked for data that passes through the company’s network routers. Rogers also raised the finding of a “backdoor” built into a ZTE product that could allow the Chinese government to secretly monitor information. A top ZTE official, who testified at the hearing, dismissed the problem as a technical “bug.”
    • The U.S. is planning to ease a blanket ban on imports on products from Myanmar (Burma), and the Burmese government announced on September 17th that it would grant amnesties to 514 prisoners, ahead of overlapping visits by President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the U.S.
    • Two days after expressing its intent of accepting aid from South Korea, Pyongyang announced that it would reject Seoul’s offer, calling the “meager” offer “deeply insulting.” Seoul’s offer to provide aid came after a typhoon this summer reportedly destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of crops in the impoverished North. Seoul called the North’s decision regrettable.
    • Taiwan and the U.S. will restart talks over the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) after Taipei eased restrictions on the import of American beef. Trade talks had been frozen since 2007 after a ban on U.S. beef was put in place. A trade deal with the U.S. could counterbalance Taiwan’s increasing reliance on China.
    • Support for Australia’s ruling Labor Party have risen to an 18-month high, polls show. Labor’s support ratings have been trailing the opposition party since 2010. The new boost may help Prime Minister Julia Gillard fend off challengers from within her party and from the opposition before elections that must be held by November 2013.
    • A scandal involving alleged improper allocation of India's coal reserves has stalled progress in its legislature, due to protests led by opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. The “Coalgate” scandal and poor economic growth have caused support for the ruling Congress Party to plummet.

    Under The Radar 09.10.12

    Posted on Monday, September 10, 2012 by Michael Chen

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • Following a week of massive protests that forced Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to scrap plans for a new curriculum designed to boost Chinese national identity, Hong Kong citizens headed to the polls to choose a new legislature. Pro-democracy parties won over one-third of the seats, enough to veto any changes to the constitution, but still fell short of expectations. Pro-Beijing political parties with greater financial resources proved more skillful in navigating Hong Kong’s complex electoral system.
    • Speaking at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 8, Chinese President Hu Jintao warned that China's economy faces "notable downward pressure" and addressed the need to upgrade infrastructure to promote stable growth and recovery. China’s trade data released on September 10 reported falling imports and lackluster growth in exports for August.
    • A report released by Asia Business News and Corporate (ABN) revealed that Taiwan's gross domestic product (GDP) contracted 0.18 percent year-on-year in the second quarter. This data coincides with a public opinion poll released by Taiwan Indicator Survey Research (TISR) on September 10 that showed the president’s support level at a record low with 69% disapproving. Opposition lawmakers blamed the central government for the poor economic standing.
    • The U.S. Marines plan to set up an "advance command post" on the western Philippine island of Palawan that faces the South China Sea, a senior Philippine marine officer told Kyodo News on September 4. The officer also stated that several other “choke points” – strategically located areas that can be used by both the U.S. and the Philippine forces – have also been opened for access for U.S. forces.
    • Chinese President-in-waiting Xi Jinping’s absence from public view for more than a week is fueling speculation online. Most rumors centered on the leader’s back problems, while other less credible sources claim that Xi was injured in a staged traffic accident that was part of a revenge plot by Bo Xilai’s supporters. Over the week, scheduled meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Singaporean prime minister and the Danish prime minister have all been allegedly cancelled.
    • A newly released report by the Taiwan military indicates that China has boosted its arsenal aimed at Taiwan to 1,600 missiles, including the new advanced medium-range DF-16 ballistic missiles. This revelation serves as a warning that while relations across the Taiwan Strait have improved, China has not slowed its military buildup across the Taiwan Strait.
    • Japan's central government will purchase three Senkaku islands for 2.05 billion yen ($26.15 million) from private owners "as quickly as possible," its cabinet secretary confirmed on September 10. The announcement drew fire from China, which called the deal "illegal and invalid." Taiwan’s government also reaffirmed its claim over the islets in response to Tokyo.
    • The ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party gear up for party chief elections. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to retain leadership of DPJ, but polls show the demoralized ruling party almost certain for election defeat. LDP president Sadakazu Tanigaki, after failing to secure a key faction’s support, quit his reelection bid on September 10. Meanwhile, Osaka’s populist mayor Toru Hashimoto announced the launching of a national party expected to make a spectacular debut in the upcoming legislative elections.

    Under The Radar 09.04.12

    Posted on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 by Michael Chen

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to Beijing after visits to the Cook Islands and Indonesia. While her trip to the Cook Islands underscored U.S. competition with China in the midst of a growing Chinese footprint in the South Pacific, Clinton’s trip to Beijing seeks to ease tensions. China’s foreign minister recently called for a “new type of major country relationship" with the U.S., while his spokesperson warned Washington not to take sides over the South China Sea disputes.
    • India and China will resume military exercises after a four-year freeze. The announcement was made during the Chinese Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie's visit to New Delhi, the first such visit in eight years. Analysts say Beijing will use this meeting to urge India to stay out of ongoing South China Sea conflicts, while New Delhi may pressure Beijing to ease its confrontational posture in territorial disputes.
    • Japan’s government will be forced to go on an unprecedented spending freeze, if the bond-issuance bill fails to pass in the current parliamentary session ending September 8, a likely scenario amid political deadlock. The latest standoff came as opposition lawmakers, eager to force an early election, passed a censure motion against Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on August 29. Analysts have warned that the spending freeze would threaten the government’s ability to apply fiscal stimulus, leading to a “fiscal slope.”
    • China pledged to invest in more European debt and signed a contract for 50 Airbus jets after German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Beijing on August 31. While seemingly successful, Merkel’s visit drew criticism back home for not pressuring Beijing on human rights.
    • Japan and North Korea held talks for the first time in four years on August 29th. Representatives from both countries met at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, China. Japan is reportedly pushing to bring the North's abduction of Japanese citizens on the table for future talks, while the North is using the talks to ask for economic assistance. The meeting was seen as a preliminary discussion to pave the way for broader talks in the future.
    • North Korea and Iran signed a scientific and technological cooperation agreement on September 1, tightening relations between the two countries and paving the way for further military technology collaboration. Washington has long accused North Korea of providing Iran with advanced missiles, a charge Tehran denies.
    • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned that North Korea’s nuclear program is a "matter of serious concern.” In a recent report, the UN nuclear watchdog cited satellite images showing significant progress in the construction of a light water atomic reactor.
    • Washington has made it clear to Seoul and Tokyo that the Dokdo/Takeshima islets are not covered by each country’s bilateral security treaty with the U.S. The U.S. is dismayed to see its two key allies at odds and has called for both sides to “work it out peacefully.”
    • A London-based monitor issued a report saying that China’s attempt to slowly assimilate Taiwan through economic integration will likely fail due to stiff Taiwanese opposition to any ‘one country, two systems’ solution. The report also warns that forced reunification would result in “a bloodbath” and be “extremely risky for Beijing.”

    Under The Radar 08.27.12

    Posted on Monday, August 27, 2012 by Michael Chen

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • China tested the CSS-4 Mod 2 silo-based ICBM at the Wuzhai Missile and Space Test Center on August 20. This is reportedly the third missile test in the past four weeks. U.S. intelligence analysts expect China to upgrade to multiple warhead missiles in the near future, but Pentagon officials say that the tests are a result of deficiencies on the part of Chinese missile technologies.
    • The dispute between South Korea and Japan over the Dokdo/Takeshima Islets intensified this week as the two nations clashed over the handling of diplomatic letters between the heads-of-states. On August 23, the U.S. called on South Korea and Japan to resolve their differences peacefully through consultation and constructive dialogue.
    • Amid strong public anti-nuclear sentiment, Japan is considering the elimination of nuclear power over the next 20 years in the formation of a new long term energy plan. This formula would mark a departure from earlier predictions, which forecasted nuclear power to make up between 10 and 20 percent of Japan’s energy mix. A new Asahi Shimbun survey released on August 26 showed a plurality of Diet members in favor of full elimination.
    • While Chinese activists take to the streets to protest Japan’s claim over the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Islands in the East China Sea, Beijing has taken steps to reign in the protests for fear that they might jeopardize relations with Tokyo or escalate into domestic dissidence. The Chinese government warned its citizens not to blindly boycott all Japanese products because of China’s bilateral economic relations with Japan.
    • South Korea imported oil from Iran in July, in an apparent departure from earlier government statements against importing Iranian oil due to the EU insurance ban. Seoul officials claimed that delayed June shipments led to the cargo’s July arrival. Other government sources said that Iranian crude imports would resume in September, upon shifting the responsibility of insurance to Iran.
    • In the name of national security, India has blocked over 300 internet sites, including many Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts. The government claims it seeks to censor accounts that publish “objectionable content,” such as rumors of revenge attacks by Muslims on migrants in the Northeast. Indian journalists, internet experts, and the U.S. State Department have all called on India to respect internet freedom.
    • Philippine President Benigno Aquino named the country’s first female Supreme Court chief justice on August 24. Aquino praised Maria Lourdes Sereno’s ability to lead much-needed reforms of the judicial system. Yet, critiques questioned her ability to remain neutral, noting that she would be “politically indebted” to Aquino for her appointment.
    • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to visit the Cook Islands, a nation of just 11,000 people in the South Pacific, to attend the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). Lack of U.S. presence in the small island states has allowed China to increase its influence, experts say, and Clinton’s visit reflects Washington’s renewed focus on Asia-Pacific. 
    Rosalind Reischer contributed to this report.

    Under The Radar 08.20.12

    Posted on Monday, August 20, 2012 by Michael Chen

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • Rising nationalism is escalating tensions in the East China Sea. Following 14 Chinese activists’ landing on August 15th on the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Islands, 10 Japanese activists – including local assembly members – on August 19th also sailed to the isle to assert Japanese sovereignty over the disputed territories. The outspoken governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, criticized the Japanese government’s decision to release, rather than indict, the Chinese activists; and several cities in China have witnessed anti-Japan rallies in the past week protesting the Japanese government’s actions.
    • In the latest step of reform for the nominally civilian government, Burma (Myanmar) announced on Monday an end to pre-publication censorship of the country's media. Journalists were “cautiously optimistic” and called the new policy a major improvement, but also expressed concern over self-censorship. Journalists are still required to submit their work to state censors after publication.
    • South Korea’s Park Guen-hye handily secured the ruling Saenuri (New Frontier) Party’s nomination to run for president with 84% of the primary vote. Park has pledged to improve ties with North Korea, but stated that Pyongyang would have to abandon its nuclear ambitions before Seoul would engage. The likely main opposition candidate, Moon Jae-in, vowed to provide unconditional aid for North Korea.
    • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called on the military to prepare for a “sacred war” before an annual military exercise by South Korea and the U.S. aimed at testing defense capabilities. A U.S. research group warned that Pyongyang may have the fuel to build as many as 48 nuclear weapons by 2015 unless imposed sanctions start to work. 
    • Taiwan’s GDP growth forecast for 2012 was cut to 1.66 percent, down from a previous estimate of 2.08 percent. According to government figures released on August 20, exports in July also dropped 4.4 percent from the same month last year. Local economists urged the Taipei government not to view the free trade pact with China as a long-term solution, pointing to a recent plunge in exports to China.
    • Taiwan’s main opposition party is taking steps to engage China. Following the reinstatement of its Department of China Affairs, two Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers, Hsiao Bi-Khim and Lin Chia-lung, paid separate visits to China to attend forums on cross-Strait relations held by the Shanghai Institute for East Asia Studies and the Shanghai Asia-Pacific Regional Development and Urban Governance Forum (上海亞太區域發展暨城市治理論壇), respectively.
    • Following Japan’s footsteps, India’s government is offering insurance for cargo ship companies willing to transport Iranian crude as a means to bypass EU sanctions. Yet because the $100 million per ship coverage pales in comparison to the $1 billion European insurers offered, most Indian companies have so far declined to resume oil shipments from Tehran.

    Randy Schriver on WSJ Live's Opinion Journal

    Posted on Friday, August 17, 2012 by Rosalind Reischer

    Project 2049's Randy Schriver speaks about China and Japan in the South China Sea and the newly-released Armitage-Nye Report on The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Anchoring Stability in Asia.

    India's Look East Policy in the South China Sea

    Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 by Rosalind Reischer

    In mid-July, Vietnam announced that it would extend the contract of India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL) –the international arm of India’s Oil and Natural Gas Company (ONGC)–for block 128, which lies in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.   After initial exploration, OVL had concluded that development of the block within the time limits of the original contract would be economically unfeasible. Yet, Vietnam’s new offer extended the development timeline and added data that would reportedly make development more efficient. OVL accepted the offer four days later.   Hanoi’s decision to extend the contract comes in the wake of the underwhelming July conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia, which failed to produce a communiqué, much less a Code of Conduct delineating acceptable practices in the South China Sea. The offer signals Hanoi’s wish to keep an Indian presence in the South China Sea to balance China’s assertive behavior. At the same time, OVL’s economic relationship with Vietnam highlights the expansion of India’s Look East Policy, wherein India’s strategic goals are furthered by the presence of legitimate economic development in the South China Sea.

    India’s growing engagement with Vietnam, and by extension in the South China Sea, is a logical expansion of its Look East Policy (LEP). The policy was first initiated under then Premier P.V. Narasimha Rao during a visit to South Korea in 1993. While in Korea, Premier Rao called for economic liberalization and an “opening in the floodgates” to South Korean chaebols (mega corporations). Just months after the visit, Daewoo automobile was successfully launched in India.  Beginning in earnest at the start of the 21st century, the geographic scope of India’s LEP extended downward to Southeast Asia and the Pacific. In the process, India appears to be asserting a strategy that combines economic, political, and security leverages in the Asia-Pacific. The comprehensive nature of this policy has enabled the economic activities of India’s private and state-owned companies to be in line with New Delhi’s expanding diplomatic relations with the region. Most recently, the policy manifests itself in efforts by private and state-owned Indian companies and the Indian Navy to actively develop ties with ASEAN countries bordering the South China Sea.

    The evolution of New Delhi’s LEP to involve ASEAN reflects the increasing geostrategic importance of the South China Sea. India is not a South China Sea littoral state and has no territorial claims in the region. However, the stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea are vital interests for New Delhi-- fifty-five percent of India’s trade with Asia passes through this strategic sea route, including crucial energy supplies.  The South China Sea is an economic security lifeline for India and New Delhi relies heavily on the United States and ASEAN partners for cooperation in protecting shared interests in the region. The strategic relationships built with ASEAN nations were even acknowledged by an editorial in the China-based Global Times as paramount to India’s national security. Conversely, the success of India’s strategy is equally important for Vietnam. Potential economic benefits aside, OVL’s presence in the South China Sea and effort towards joint development of block 128 present Vietnam with international credibility over the disputed economic zone.

    Apparently in reaction to Vietnam’s decision to extend OVL exploration off its coast, China’s National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) announced on June 25, 2012 that it would accept bids from foreign oil companies to jointly develop nine blocks (JY22, HY10, HY34, BS16, DW04, DW22, YQX18, RJ00, RJ27) in the South China Sea, including areas that overlap with blocks that Vietnam has already started jointly exploring and developing with India’s OVL, the United States’ ExxonMobil, and Russia’s Gazprom.   CNOOC blocks HY34 and BS16 overlap with Vietnam blocks 148 and 149, which belong to PetroVietnam Exploration and Production Company (PVEP). CNOOC blocks RJ27, RJ03, YQX18, and DW22 overlaps blocks belonging to ONGC, Gazprom, and Exxon, who among themselves are developing Vietnam blocks 128-132 and 156-159. Chinese state media reported a month after the initial offer that the CNOOC tender is progressing smoothly, and claims several U.S. oil and gas companies have submitted offers, but declined to give any specific information about foreign participators.

    The latest flare up in tensions in the South China Sea, underscored by China’s reaction to India’s energy diplomacy with Vietnam, is illustrative of the frail state of the South China Sea dispute. To be sure, China perceives any actions that encroach upon what it considers Chinese sovereign territory as unacceptable, and therefore India’s warming relations with ASEAN countries as a hedge against its claim in the South China Sea. The almost-universal acknowledgement of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as international law and the upward trajectory of Indo-ASEAN relations may set a solid precedent for the peaceful and non-military resolution of future disputes by reinforcing the role of non-littoral states in the South China Sea. Yet, energy disputes such as this one reflect the disjointed state of the South China Sea dispute. While regional peace and stability may be the cited goal of both India and China, the shadow of intolerance that China casts over energy diplomacy will continue to define the potential paths to conflict resolution in the South China Sea.

    Under The Radar 08.13.12

    Posted on Monday, August 13, 2012 by Rosalind Reischer

    A weekly compilation of under reported events in Asia. 

    • South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took a surprise trip to the Dokdo islets, which have long been part of a territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan. Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto claimed the trip was aimed at garnering a higher approval rating. Classifying President Lee’s trip as unacceptable, Japan announced Saturday it would take the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice. Observers predict Lee's audacious move will seriously jeopardize relations between the two countries due to the heightened sensitivity over territorial issues.
    • Top ranking Vietnamese officials including the president and party general secretary met with Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK, in Hanoi last week. The two sides agreed to strengthen cooperation at regional forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang said that Vietnam consistently favored a stable, peaceful and nuclear-free peninsula and that concerned parties should make an effort to promote dialogue and nuclear nonproliferation on the peninsula. He also informed Mr. Kim of Vietnam’s decision to provide five thousand tons of rice in food aid to North Korea.
    • A weak monsoon season in India has led to economists reducing growth forecasts for the Indian economy. While agriculture only makes up 14% of the economy, 50% of the population works on farms. As a result, when rain is lacking, the rural population suffers. The latest Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report concluded that the composite leading indicators (CLIs) of both India and China reflect a continued slowdown in both countries.
    • South Korea’s cabinet and President Lee Myung-bak have endorsed a bill that would set up a fund to cover the incorporation cost in the event of the reunification of the peninsula. The bill, still awaiting approval from parliament, would draw on government and private funding sources. Estimates of the total cost of reunification vary widely, but as the GNP per capita in South Korea is now 19 times that of North Korea, the cost in any case would be considerable.
    • According to a recent report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service, Pakistan has plans to improve its nuclear arsenal to counter that of India and increase the circumstances in which it would use nuclear weapons. The report cited Islamabad’s increased production of fissile material as a response to the perceived nuclear threat from New Delhi.
    • Taepung International Investment Group, a North Korean military investment firm established to attract foreign investments, was reportedly closed last week due to poor performance. According to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo, experts believe the closure was associated with the ouster of military official Ri Yong-yo and part of a broader initiative by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to loosen the military grip on politics and increase the influence of party technocrats.
    • The Japanese government has decided to extend the role of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in U.N. peacekeeping operations in the Golan Heights region of Syria. The Japanese government, acknowledging the deteriorating security situation in Syria, said steps would be taken to ensure the security of SDF troops.
    • The United States has decided to deploy drones to monitor Chinese activity in waters around the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Island Chain in the East China Sea. The drones will also conduct surveillance around Okinawa Prefecture. The move is indented to reassure Japan so it does not have to take “provocative action” concerning the Islands.

    Under The Radar 08.06.12

    Posted on Monday, August 6, 2012 by Michael Chen

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • The U.S. State Department accused China of stirring up tensions in the South China Sea by the establishment of a new military garrison on the disputed islands. Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesperson of the State Department urged ASEAN and China to work together on establishing a Code of Conduct. In response, Beijing officials summoned the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission to warn Washington not to challenge China's sovereignty over the islands.
    • In Japan’s annual defense white paper Defense of Japan, released on July 31, Tokyo took note of China’s growing military influence on its foreign policy decisions, and called for a tougher defense strategy and a Cold War-style hot line between Tokyo and Beijing. Despite praising South Korea as a close ally, the report also reasserted Japan’s claims over disputed islands also claimed by South Korea, a move that angered officials in Seoul.
    • Massive floods between July 18 and 29 devastated parts of North Korea, reportedly killing hundreds of people and submerging vast swaths of the isolated country’s farmland. Calls for immediate assistance by North Korea and UN officials who visited the flooded areas were followed by the UN World Food Program (WFP)’s announcement of shipments of emergency food aid to the impoverished country.
    • India suffered two major power outages in two days. The blackout at one point reportedly left half its population (or 600 million people) without electricity. While power has since been restored, the power outages casted looming doubts throughout the international community as to whether India can become a superpower with its unstable infrastructure.
    • Chinese courts in Xinjiang jailed 20 Uighur Muslims on charges of terrorism and separatism, prompting an exiled rights group to accuse the Chinese state of trying to oppress their culture and religion. Authorities in Xinjiang have also banned Muslim officials and students from fasting during Ramadan.
    • In a joint forum between China and Taiwan’s ruling party, the fourth-top ranking Chinese official, Jia Qinglin, offered a rare, explicit definition of Beijing’s “One-China” Policy, stating that China and Taiwan both belong to “one nation.” Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party called Jia Qinglin’s statement part of Beijing’s ‘step-by-step move toward unification,’ and called on President Ma Ying-jeou to protest the move.
    • Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou proposed the East China Sea initiative to address the disputes over Diaoyutai, or Senkaku islands, claimed by Taiwan, China, and Japan. Ma urged all parties to establish a code of conduct and create mechanism for joint development of resources.
    • Researchers found that a growing middle class in Asian countries, especially China, is likely to cause a food crisis in the near future. The study pinpointed growing appetites for meat and poultry fed on grains and legumes as a major driver of the recent record-high prices of corn, wheat and soybeans.

    Under The Radar 07.30.12

    Posted on Monday, July 30, 2012 by Michael Chen

    A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.

    • The U.S. ambassador to South Korea urged North Korea to learn from the recent political and economic reforms in Burma (Myanmar), saying that U.S. would respond constructively to positive changes. North Korea has yet to lay out specific plans to reform its economy, but rice hoarders eager to turn a profit from potential reforms have already raised prices, driving rice produce even further out of reach of North Korea’s starving population.
    • South Korean intelligence revealed that North Korea's former army chief Ri Yong-ho was ousted because he unilaterally repositioned troops near Pyongyang during a military exercise. Mr. Ri reportedly also expressed dissatisfaction over Kim Jong-un’s decision to transfer control of lucrative businesses from the military to the Workers Party.
    • Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda took steps to extend the life of what pundits say may be another short-lived government. Facing growing concern over the deployment of Ospreys, Noda conceded that Japan was in no position to block the deployment, but ordered that no Ospreys be allowed to fly until investigations of prior accidents were concluded. To prevent more party members from defecting, Noda may also postpone Japan’s entry into Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.
    • Australia’s gas producers expect to benefit from Japan’s new energy policy while Australia’s uranium industry sees a decline in its exports. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will unveil a medium-term national energy plan in August, but already natural gas is the favored option for Japan’s national energy mix.
    • Taiwanese regulators cleared the way for a pro-China media tycoon to take over one of the nation’s largest cable TV systems, drawing sharp criticism from opposition lawmakers, who said the deal would create a “media monster” and called for an immediate reversal.
    • Amidst severe flooding in Beijing, the public has exposed the government’s inability to respond to the severe conditions and criticized the government’s lack of transparency, forcing city officials to update the death toll from 37 to 77. The mayor of Beijing and his deputy resigned, but pundits say the resignations were most likely a routine reshuffling, and that the mayor is still poised to be promoted later this year.
    • Leaders of Burma and Thailand met to sign three Memoranda of Understanding, focusing on development cooperation, joint energy projects, and a commitment to invest in Dawei, a multi-billion-dollar port and special economic zone located in Southwest Burma.
    • Tens of thousands marched on the streets of Hong Kong in protest of the local government’s plan to implement a new curriculum praising the Chinese Communist Party. The Hong Kong government, undeterred by protests, continued to defend the curriculum, but promised to form a committee to monitor “moral and national” education.
    • The Philippine Senate ratified the Philippines-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), which is expected to further expand bilateral cooperation in maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and counter-terrorism. In addition to the agreement with Australia, the Philippine Coast Guard also received assistance from Japan, which announced plans to provide 12 new patrol boats by 2014.
    • The Vietnamese and Philippine Foreign Ministries jointly protested China’s plans to establish a military garrison on the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. The two ASEAN members also voiced their opposition to the creation of Sansha City, a Chinese prefecture created to administer the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

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