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.”

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