Category - Asia

Japan’s crown prince calls for ‘correct’ telling of history

Comments seen as rebuke to Abe and others in right wing who downplay Japan’s system of wartime sex slavery.

Al Jazeera / Wire Services, February 23

Japan’s crown prince has warned of the need to remember World War II “correctly,” in a rare foray into an ideological debate as nationalist politicians seek to downplay the country’s crimes.

Naruhito’s mild-mannered broadside was being interpreted in some circles as a rebuke to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a key figure in the right-wing drive to minimize the significance of Japan’s institutionalized system of wartime sex slavery.

“Today when memories of war are set to fade, I reckon it is important to look back on our past with modesty and pass down correctly the miserable experience and the historic path Japan took from the generation that knew the war to the generation that doesn’t,” Naruhito said.

The comments, released Monday on the prince’s 55th birthday, come as Abe’s controversial views on history roil Japan’s relations with China and South Korea and cause unease in Washington.

Reckon?

Myanmar declares martial law in troubled Kokang region

Reuters, By Soe Zeya Tun, February 17

Kunlong, Myanmar – Myanmar President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in the Kokang region in the east and imposed a three-month period of martial law there in an announcement on state television on Tuesday night.

Fighting broke out on Feb. 9 between the Myanmar army and an ethnic Kokang force called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

At least 47 Myanmar soldiers and 26 MNDAA fighters have been killed since then, the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported, and thousands of civilians have fled, either to other areas in Myanmar or over the border into China.

U.S. Is Escalating a Secretive War in Afghanistan

Data From Seized Computer Fuels a Surge in U.S. Raids on Al Qaeda

New York Times, By Matthew Rosenberg & Eric Schmitt, February 12

Washington — As an October chill fell on the mountain passes that separate the militant havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a small team of Afghan intelligence commandos and American Special Operations forces descended on a village where they believed a leader of Al Qaeda was hiding.

That night the Afghans and Americans got their man, Abu Bara al-Kuwaiti. They also came away with what officials from both countries say was an even bigger prize: a laptop computer and files detailing Qaeda operations on both sides of the border.

American military officials said the intelligence seized in the raid was possibly as significant as the information found in the computer and documents of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after members of the Navy SEALs killed him in 2011.

In the months since, the trove of intelligence has helped fuel a significant increase in night raids by American Special Operations forces and Afghan intelligence commandos, Afghan and American officials said.

Chinese president Xi Jinping to visit US, says diplomat

Chinese ambassador to US says officials from both countries are discussing Xi making first state visit to US later this year

AP, February 8

A top Chinese diplomat has said President Xi Jinping plans to make his first state visit to the US later this year, Chinese state media reported on Monday.

The official China Daily newspaper quoted China’s ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai as saying Chinese and US officials were discussing the visit. Cui told Chinese reporters on Sunday that no date had been determined yet.

The US national security adviser Susan Rice said on Friday that the US had invited both Xi and the Japanese president, Shinzo Abe, for state visits.

Hong Kong protesters take to streets again, marching for democracy

Los Angeles Times, By Violet Law, February 1

More than 10,000 people marched in Hong Kong on Sunday to press for open elections in 2017, staging the first mass rally since police cleared pro-democracy demonstrators from the streets in December.

Protesters rallied in the financial district known as Central, and the prop that came to define the fall 2014 protests — the canary yellow umbrella — was ubiquitous, despite there being nary a threat of rain. But Sunday’s mood was perceptibly muted.

Whereas large throngs of university and high school students energized the autumn protests, the latest demonstration attracted a noticeably older crowd. Among the marchers were new coalitions, such as the Progressive Lawyers Group and Umbrella Parents, whose members said they believed it was time to take a proactive role in what so far has been a predominantly student-led movement.

The event felt less like a pep rally and more like a strategy session for those most determined to carry on their fight.

“The most important mission upon us right now is: How can we win over the other half of Hong Kong?” said Alan Leong, a legislator in the so-called pan-democratic camp of the territory’s Legislative Council.

Experts raise alarm as plague kills dozens in Madagascar

CNN, By Laura Smith-Spark & Lucy Pawle, February 1

An outbreak of the plague has killed dozens in Madagascar, and experts fear those numbers could go up.

At least 119 cases were confirmed by late last year, including 40 deaths, the World Health Organization said in a statement.

And the disease is taking an alarming turn.

“The outbreak that started last November has some disturbing dimensions,” the WHO said this week. “The fleas that transmit this ancient disease from rats to humans have developed resistance to the first-line insecticide.”

Thailand junta squelches forum on media censorship

Bangkok press freedom event canceled, raising fears about future of free expression in Thailand.

Al Jazeera, January 29

Thailand’s junta has effectively forced a German foundation to cancel a forum discussing new restrictions on the media, scheduled to be held Friday in Bangkok, raising concerns among journalists and right advocates about the junta’s efforts to curtail press freedom and political dissent in what has long been a relatively open society in the region.

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a foundation that has headquarters in headquartered in Bonn and Berlin, Germany, that promotes social democracy worldwide, said it would comply with a request from the junta — also known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) — to cancel the forum, which was to feature a panel discussion and a presentation about a study on media freedom in Thailand.

“We received a call from the government asking us to postpone the event indefinitely because of the sensitive nature of the topic and the political climate within the country,” Thatsanavanh Banchong, the foundation’s media and civic education officer, told the Bangkok Post.

Russia calls for EU talks with newly born Eurasian Union

EUObserver, By Andrew Rettman, January 2

Brussels – Russia’s EU ambassador has urged Brussels to launch talks with the newly born Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) despite the Ukraine crisis.

Vladimir Chizhov told EUobserver: “Our idea is to start official contacts between the EU and the EAEU as soon as possible. [German] chancellor Angela Merkel talked about this not long ago. The EU sanctions [on Russia] are not a hinder”.

“I think that common sense advises us to explore the possibility of establishing a common economic space in the Eurasian region, including the focus countries of the Eastern Partnership [an EU policy on closer ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine]”.

“We might think of a free trade zone encompassing all of the interested parties in Eurasia”.

He described the new Russia-led bloc as a better partner for the EU than the US, with a dig at health standards in the US food industry.

“Do you believe it is wise to spend so much political energy on a free trade zone with the USA while you have more natural partners at your side, closer to home? We don’t even chlorinate our chickens”, the ambassador said.

The treaty establishing the Eurasian Union entered into life on Thursday (1 January).

It includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, with Kyrgyzstan to join in May.

North Korea responds with fury to US sanctions over Sony hack

Pyongyang denies involvement in Sony Pictures hack and accuses US of stirring up hostility.

The Guardian, By Haroon Siddique and agencies, January 4

North Korea has furiously denounced the United States for imposing sanctions in retaliation for the Pyongyang regime’s alleged cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.

North Korea’s foreign ministry reiterated that it did not have any role in the breach of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files and accused the US of “groundlessly” stirring up hostility towards Pyongyang. He said the new sanctions would not weaken the country’s 1.2 million-strong military.

“The policy persistently pursued by the US to stifle the DPRK [North Korea], groundlessly stirring up bad blood towards it, will only harden its will and resolution to defend the sovereignty of the country,” North’s state-run KCNA news agency quoted the unnamed spokesman as saying on Sunday.

LEAKED: Secret Negotiations to Let Big Brother Go Global

The ugly ramifications of the Trade in Services Act (TiSA)

Wolf Street, By Don Quijones, December 25

Much has been written, at least in the alternative media, about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), two multilateral trade treaties being negotiated between the representatives of dozens of national governments and armies of corporate lawyers and lobbyists (on which you can read more here, here and here). However, much less is known about the decidedly more secretive Trade in Services Act (TiSA), which involves more countries than either of the other two.

At least until now, that is. Thanks to a leaked document jointly published by the Associated Whistleblowing Press and Filtrala, the potential ramifications of the treaty being hashed out behind hermetically sealed doors in Geneva are finally seeping out into the public arena.
Read More

U.S. formally ends the war in Afghanistan

AP, December 28

Kabul, Afghanistan – The United States and NATO formally ended their war in Afghanistan on Sunday with a ceremony at their military headquarters in Kabul as the insurgency they fought for 13 years remains as ferocious and deadly as at any time since the 2001 invasion that unseated the Taliban regime following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The symbolic ceremony marked the end of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, which will transition to a supporting role with 13,500 soldiers, most of them American, starting Jan. 1.

Gen. John Campbell, commander of ISAF, rolled up and sheathed the green and white ISAF flag and unfurled the flag of the new international mission, called Resolute Support.

“Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership” between NATO and Afghanistan, Campbell told an audience of Afghan and international military officers and officials, as well as diplomats and journalists.

Malaysia flooding: PM Najib Razak to tour inundated areas

Malaysia is battling some of the worst floods in decades along its east coast, which have killed at least five people.

BBC, December 27

More than 100,000 people have been forced from their homes, and Prime Minister Najib Razak has returned early from holiday in the US.

He was criticised for playing golf with President Barack Obama, but defended his trip in remarks on Saturday.

Eastern states are often flooded during the monsoon season but heavy rain and winds have worsened the situation.

In some areas, entire towns have been submerged.

Obama hopes to enlist GOP in push for trade pact, despite Democratic resistance

Washington Post, By David Nakamura, December 26

President Obama is preparing a major push on a vast free trade zone that seeks to enlist Republicans as partners and test his premise that Washington can still find common ground on major initiatives.

It also will test his willingness to buck his own party in pursuit of a legacy-burnishing achievement. Already, fellow Democrats are accusing him of abandoning past promises on trade and potentially undermining his domestic priority of reducing income inequality.

The dynamic, as the White House plots strategy for the new year when the GOP has full control of Congress, has scrambled traditional political alliances. In recent weeks, Obama has rallied the business community behind his trade agenda, while leading Capitol Hill progressives, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have raised objections and labor and environmental groups have mounted a public relations campaign against it.

The administration is moving aggressively in hopes of wrapping up negotiations by the middle of next year on a 12-nation free-trade pact in the Asia Pacific before the politics become even more daunting ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the administration,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a pro-trade Democrat viewed by the administration as a key ally. “They need to get out and educate members and address the concerns they might have. I’ve been advising colleagues who are skeptical and not supportive of trade to at least engage in conversations and feedback.”

Risk in Fukushima No. 4 reactor mitigated as last of nuclear fuel removed

The Asahi Shimbun, By Yu Kotsubo & Hiromi Kumai, December 21

Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture – Tokyo Electric Power Co. removed the last four nuclear fuel assemblies that remained in the No. 4 reactor building of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from its storage pool on Dec. 20.

The No. 4 reactor was offline at the time of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. However, an explosion occurred in the building four days later, seriously damaging it.

After the accident, experts pointed to the risk of nuclear fuel in the pool melting from insufficient cooling and releasing a large amount of radioactive materials. However, the threat has been mitigated with the removal of the last assemblies.

[…]

TEPCO started the removal of those assemblies from the pool in November 2013 after installing a new roof and a crane on the building. The removal of spent nuclear fuel assemblies concluded in November this year.

There will be no work in the No. 4 reactor building for the time being. TEPCO will be engaged in efforts at the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactor buildings and in dealing with the growing volume of contaminated water partly resulting from efforts to keep the reactors from overheating.

Of course, there are still troubles; EX-SKF: #Fukushima I NPP: Plan C Also Failed in Plugging Reactor 2 Trench… Now What?

Pakistan to execute 500 militants after moratorium lifted

RTÉ, December 22

Pakistan has announced plans to execute around 500 militants in coming weeks, after the government lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in terror cases following a Taliban school massacre.

Six militants have been hanged since Friday amid rising public anger over an attack last Tuesday’s which left 149 people dead including 133 children.

The attack in the northwestern city of Peshawar was the deadliest terror attack in Pakistani history, leading to the ending of the six-year moratorium on the death penalty.

A senior government official said the interior ministry has finalised the case of 500 convicts who have exhausted all avenues of appeal.