|Asia News Digest
India Expresses 'Grave Concern' Over Nepal Developments
The Indian statement followed the fact that on Feb.1, Nepali King Gyanendra sacked his government, imposed a state of emergency, and seized control over the state for the next three years. In essence, King Gyanendra has reinstituted the absolute monarchy which the Nepalis had gotten rid of in 1990. The ostensible reason behind the power grab was the government's inability to hold elections and the rise of lawless Maoist insurgents. The real story is something else.
What is evident is that King Gyanendra made his move without informing New Delhiits next door neighbor, a nation with 1 billion-plus people. Reports indicate that King Gyanendra was unwilling to get New Delhi's approval in opening the road (already built) between Lhasa in Tibet and Kathmandu. His Prime Minister Deuba, now deposed, had insisted that Indian approval was necessary.
The immediate effect of the power grab is a mass exodus of Nepali Maoists into India, which New Delhi considers highly unsettling.
India Plans To Lend $4 Billion to Russia in Oil Deal
According to Indian media on Feb. 2, a top Indian Oil Ministry official has said that India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) is negotiating a deal to lend $4 billion to Russia's Rosneft and spend another $2 billion to buy a part of the oil assets from the Russian firm Yukos.
"ONGC has the backing of the petroleum ministry, but we need the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs before going ahead," said the official. Another official told the media that ONGC is likely to acquire 16-17% equity in Yuganskneftegaz, a unit of the Yukos that was bought for $9.4 billion by an unknown Russian group, Baikal Finance, which was in turn bought by state-run oil producer Rosneft.
India, which imports 70% of its crude oil requirement, has stakes in oil and gas projects in countries such as Myanmar, Sudan, Russia, Libya, and Australia, and recently signed a $40 billion deal to import LNG from Iran.
Anti-Yangoon Group Urges Political Prisoner Release
The anti-Yangoon Karen National Union (KNU) took the occasion of the celebrations of the 56th anniversary of its revolution, to call on the Myanmar ruling junta to show its sincerity by releasing all political prisoners, and beginning talks with the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other minority groups, instead of using force.
The call was made on Feb. 1, at the celebrations, which were attended by leaders of several minority groups, including the pro-democracy Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.
Former KNU leader Gen. Bo Mya, now wheelchair-bound patron of the movement, opened the celebrations. The KNU had severed itself from Burmese government control and fought for equal rights and freedom in Burma for 56 years and would continue its battle to maintain the Karen identity, he said.
KNU secretary-general Pado Mahn Sha Lapan said the KNU wanted Yangoon to show its sincerity about unifying Myanmar by releasing all political prisoners, including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, halting crackdowns on political rivals and minority groups, and starting talks with the NLD and all other minority groups.
KNU supreme commander Lt-Gen. Mu Tu said Myanmar (Burma) troops were still operating in Karen-held areas.
"If Burma wants to solve the problems through political means, the KNU is ready to cooperate or there will be never-ending losses," he said.
Vietnam Seeks International Help To Tackle Bird Flu
Vietnam has officially requested the help of the international community to tackle a bird flu epidemic and prepare a long-term plan to address the problem, the World Health Organization said Feb. 3.
Vietnamese Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat sent a letter late Feb. 2 to WHO and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) asking for help in developing a strategy to tackle the on-going bird flu epidemic.
Hans Troedsson, WHO's representative in Vietnam, said the Ministry had also confirmed initial findings that a Cambodian woman who died last month in southern Vietnam had tested positive for bird flu.
UN agencies would coordinate aid from the international community and experts should be sent to Vietnam for a comprehensive assessment. The virus has claimed 13 lives in Vietnam since Dec. 30, and 33 since the end of 2003. Twelve people have also died in Thailand from the virus that has swept Asia since December 2003.
German Foreign Minister Heads for Southeast Asia
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer embarked Feb. 3 on a nine-day tour of Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand to assess relief efforts in Indonesia's Banda Aceh region, and to promote Berlin's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The trip includes stops in East Timor and Malaysia, and is his second visit to the tsunami-devastated region.
Germany is among the main donors to the stricken region, with the government pledging 500 million euros ($653 million) in aid, in addition to more than 400 million euros the German public has donated.
Fischer toured Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the Maldives last month in the aftermath of the tsunami.
The German military has anchored a supply ship, the Berlin, off the coast of the Aceh province, equipped with a clinic and two water-treatment systems, and dispatched several teams from its Technical Reconstruction Agency.
Fischer has stepped up his travel schedule in recent months since Germany, Japan, India, and Brazil in September launched a joint bid for permanent seats on the UN Security Council as part of a proposed reform of the body.
Chinese Scholar Explains China's Stand on Revaluation
Ding Yifan, Deputy Director of the Institute of World Development in Beijing, travelling with the head of the Institute, former Ambassador to Germany Mei Zhaorong, was asked in a Feb. 2 Washington meeting why China will not revalue the renminbi. Ding, who has interviewed Lyndon LaRouche, and has written several books with chapters on LaRouche's economic and political ideas, gave the following interesting response, in paraphrase:
China had a managed float before 1997, and revalued three times in the 1990s. The decision to set a hard peg in 1997 was due to the so-called Asian crisis, in order to help stabilize the monetary situation in Asia generally. Then, having fixed the peg to the dollar, it can not be changed quickly. We are under great international pressure, from the U.S., Europe, and Japan, with large flows of money betting on a devaluationhot money. We cannot show weakness before this speculation, since if we give in, they will try to drain our markets. We have enough reserves, so we can deal with the speculation, and are not looking to revalue any time soon.
Ding continued: Of course, at some point in the future, if the pressure is taken off, we could then revalue.
Philippines Senator Calls for Investigation of Hersh Charges
On Jan. 28 Philippines Sen. Aquilino Pimentel from Mindinao called for a Senate Select Committee to investigate the Pentagon spies revealed by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker magazine, and similar reports in the Washington Post. Pimentel presented a description of the U.S. spy apparatus, under military intelligence control, including the fact that the Philippines was named as a target, emphasizing that this was not covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement, shoved down their throats by the U.S., to allow American forces to operate within the country as "trainers." He detailed the strange case of the American Michael Meiring, who accidentally blew up a bomb in his hotel room in 2002, and was spirited out of the country by FBI and U.S. Embassy staff before the Philippines government could arrest him. Was he one of these strange fellows?
Russia and China Announce Regular Security Consultations
Russia and China will hold regular security consultations in the future, Russian President Vladimir Putin and visiting Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan announced Feb. 2. Tang Jiaxuan, former Foreign Minister and now China's senior foreign policy diplomat, said to Putin that Russia is China's "main partner for strategic cooperation," and that "This is the first time ever that China is establishing a mechanism of national security consultations with another country." Tang had discussed details of the mechanism with Russian Security Council secretary Igor Ivanov earlier in his visit to Moscow. "We decided to establish such a mechanism with Russia because we have close positions regarding the international situation, key international and regional issues, as well as issues related to maintaining peace and helping global development. We have common strategic interests related to those issues."
Putin said that "consultations in the sphere of security at the political level are the groundwork of our cooperation in that sphere. I can state with pleasure that plans for bilateral consultations in the sphere of security are being implemented. We have very intensive relations in the political and economic spheres, in security and in military cooperation. This year there will be a major military exercise, the first one of this scale over many years." The joint Russian-Chinese military exercise is scheduled for August. Russian Air Force chief Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov said in January that Tu-22M and Tu-95 bombers will take part in the exercises.
India Wants To Collaborate with China on Oil Projects
The Feb. 2 edition of the Indian paper The Hindu reported that Indian Oil Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said that India wants a joint strategy with China to set up a "mechanism" to cooperate on oil projects. Aiyar, speaking at a Houston teleconference on oil, said that India wants a joint strategy with China to bid for foreign oil projects, and avoid costly competition between the two Asian giants. The two nations can cooperate and set up joint ventures rather than competing, Aiyar said.
Aiyar has set up a task force to identify areas where the two countries can cooperate in oil and gas projects, to be headed by Additional Secretary Talmiz Ahmed.
"We are always pitted against each other to the advantage almost always of the third country," Aiyar said. "Perhaps we could set up some form of a mechanism of mutual consultation regarding third country properties and thereafter in some cases bid against each other, in some cases bid together."
Aiyar is planning a "major visit" to China later this year, after he was invited by the Chinese Energy Minister during a Round Table of Asian oil consumers and producers held in New Delhi last month. India will also host oil ministers from Russia and Central Asia in March for discussions about oil supplies. India has to import 70% of its crude oil.
Aiyar was on a visit to Canada, U.S.A., Britain, Dubai, and Moscow in his efforts to get foreign oil firms to invest in exploration for oil at home.