|Asia News Digest
Boucher: U.S. To Build Energy Grid from Almaty to New Delhi
Testifying before the U.S. Congress April 27, the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia, Richard Boucher, said the U.S. wants to spearhead a project to transmit electricity from Central Asia across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.
Under the plan, a regional power grid, stretching from Almaty (Kazakhstan) to New Delhi would be fed by oil and gas from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and hydropower from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Boucher said that the "opening" of Afghanistan has transformed it from an "obstacle" separating Central Asia from South Asia into a "bridge" connecting the two, which, in turn, opened "exciting new possibilities." He did not elaborate what these exciting possibilities are.
Notwithstanding the absurdity of the proposal in the present context, the purpose of floating this proposal is three-fold. To begin with, this would cut off Iran from supplying energy to the subcontinent. Second, the project would generate support within the subcontinent to giving the U.S. a powerful presence in Central Asia, and finally, it would allow the United States to have control over South Asia by having control over its energy supply.
Such a proposal was made in the 1990s by Frank Wisner, who was then Clinton's Ambassador to India. The proposal did not move for a number of reasons, but the testing of nuclear explosives by New Delhi and Islamabad in 1998 pretty much killed it.
Think Tank: India's Economic Growth To Slow
According to a report issued recently by India's semi-government economic think tank, National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), based in New Delhi, India's economic growth in the current fiscal year (April 1, 2006-March 31, 2007) would be close to 7.7%, about 0.4% less than the GDP growth registered last year, India Daily reported April 27.
The NCAER report explained: "The down side risk to growth can originate mainly from high crude prices, electricity shortage and infrastructure bottlenecks." The analysis is partly true. The most important failure of the Indian economy in the recent period is its inability to make the agriculture sector grow. Lack of investment in this vast sector where almost 60% of India's workforce is engaged is the perfect prescription for disaster. Infrastructure investment in rural India remained particularly low, providing no incentive whatsoever to the private investors to develop small and medium-sized manufacturing facilities.
Sri Lanka Resumes Air Strikes on Tamil Strongholds in Northeast
Hours after a suicide bomber, disguised as a pregnant woman, blew herself up inside the Army HQ complex in Colombo, killing at least 11five of them bodyguards of the Sri Lankan Army Commanderand severely wounding the commander of the Sri Lankan Army, Lt. Gen. Sanath Fonseka, the Sri Lankan Air Force and Navy bombed Tamil Tiger positions in the northeast of the island The Hindu reported from Fairfax, New Zealand April 25. Fonseka is considered a tough anti-Tamil military man and has been accused earlier of being particularly harsh on the Tamils.
The new round of violence had begun in early April, primarily to scuttle the peace talks scheduled to start on April 16 at Geneva. The peace talks were arranged under the auspices of the Norwegian government.
Scandinavian truce monitors in Sri Lanka reported the Air Force's bombing of Tamil positions. "We just received confirmation of air strikes against LTTE south of Trincomalee," said Ulf Henricsson, head of the Scandinavian Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. "We don't know what they're bombing. It is probably a limited operation, striking planned targets."
Meanwhile, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said on April 25 that members of the largely Sinhalese (the majority community in Sri Lanka in conflict with the Tamil minority) security forces stood by during recent ethnic riots (reported by some as the worst since the 2002 ceasefire) that followed a suspected Tiger bomb in the northeastern port-city of Trincomalee two weeks earlier, describing Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse's response as "grossly inadequate."
Japan Gives Technical Aid to Vietnam in Coal Mining
Over the past eight years, coal mining in Vietnam has developed close technical cooperation with Japanese economic groups, such as NEDO, JICA and JCOAL, Thanhnien News reported April 27. The Vietnamese National Coal and Mineral Industries (Vinacomin) held talks April 26 in Quang Ninh province, on construction of thermal power plants near the coal-mining area, and on promotion of the export of high-quality coal to major markets, particularly to Japan. In 2005, Vietnam produced 31.4 million tons of coal, of which 14.7 million were exported to Japan.
In the future, besides enhancing Vietnam's coal production capability, both sides will concentrate on developing clean coal production technology, CH4 (methane) collection and use practices. Vietnam plans to increase its coal production to 55 million tons by 2010 and to 70 million tons by 2025.
Russia Delivers Enriched Uranium to India for Two Reactors
Despite what non-proliferation experts claim as a violation of international rules, Russia has delivered fresh nuclear fuel for two General Electric-built boiling-water reactors based in Tarapur, near Mumbai, India Daily reported April 26. Russia has ignored a U.S. request for a delay until rules are formally changed to allow such transfer. The rule changes are supposed to occur, as the U.S. Congress is now in the process of considering whether to approve an agreement between the U.S. and India that would allow India, a non-signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and "illegal" producer of nuclear weapons, to obtain nuclear fuel, reactors and technology from the United States, as well as from other countries. At this point in time, the discussion has remained stuck, as one roadblock after another remains unmoved, and seemingly immovable.
A "senior U.S. official," who did not want to be identified, referring to Russia's delivery of fuel, said that "this kind of activity should not take place, in our view," and has assured those who wanted to be assured, that the fuel remains in storage, and "the United States has asked India to refrain from using the fuel...."
Nepal: Maoists Give Parliamentarians Three Months
As a gesture of conciliation, Nepal's Maoists, who fought the King and his army for at least 14 months, and have significantly weakened the monarchy, have declared a unilateral three-month ceasefire, Press Trust of India reported April 27 from Kathmandu. At the same time, this puts pressure on the parliamentary parties who have assumed power from the King, to form a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. Nepal's political power has been handed over to the elected-by-consensus Prime Minister G.P. Koirala.
The Maoist chief, Pushpa Kumar Dahalbetter known as "Prachanda" ("the Mighty")made the ceasefire announcement shortly after Koirala appealed to the rebels to withdraw their protests, including economic blockade, and assured them of the main agenda of the Nepali Parliament. The rebels had threatened to resume the economic blockades, and physical blockades of roads and highways, if Parliament dilly-dallies on the issue of setting up a constituent assembly.
The ceasefire must be considered a hiatus, and not a surrender on the part of the Maoists. The rebels, with their close links to the RIM, Sendero Luminoso, and the Indian Maoists, have no reason to concede anything at this point in time. The Maoists want the King to leave the country, make Nepal a "republic" and turn it virulently anti-India.
Philippines Airline Industry Crippled by Loss of Skilled Workforce
The Philippines airline industry, like its health-care and education systems, is threatened with breakdown by the exit overseas of its skilled workforce, according to the Philippines Inquirer April 19. Even while the government encourages the population to work overseas, in a desperate effort to gain foreign currency remittances to meet debt payments, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has restricted the deployment of pilots and aircraft mechanics abroad to prevent a disruption in the local aviation industry. Pilots and mechanics will be required to wait six months, rather than one, to get a permit to work abroad.
The POEA, which has also conducted an evaluation of the labor situation in the education and nursing sectors, plans to treat the labor force in the same way it does industrial goods inventories, by imposing a 20% buffer, i.e., an industry with less than 20% corresponding supply of workers would be considered critical and workers denied exit permits.
Industry groups in the three sectors warned that unless remedial measures were instituted soon, some of the country's vital industries and services could grind to a halt.
World Bank Demands Philippines Suicide
A report released by the World Bank, as reported by the Philippines Inquirer April 24, leaves no doubt that Bank director and über-neocon Paul Wolfowitz is dedicated to killing more people through the Bank than he did when at the Pentagon. The already collapsing Philippine economy and increasingly hungry population is told to:
* "End the National Food Authority's costly subsidy program";
* "Immediately sell the power-generating assets of the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) this year to further improve the government's financial position";
* Rapidly increase the "pace of pension fund reforms," through "a carefully planned and phased-in increase in contribution rates and rationalization of benefit payouts" and investment of pensions in "alternative investment options ... to obtain better returns."