|Asia News Digest
Indian Military Unhappy Over Budgetary Allocation
The first budget presented by the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government has left the Indian military mighty unhappy. The budget allocation raised India's budgetary expenditure to about $19 billiona raise of 7.9% over last year.
The Indian military is now in the process of modernizing itself. It has increased its military superiority over Pakistan significantly, and is now aiming to become a military power close to what China is. As a result, the military brass are seeking new expensive hardware from United States, France, Britain, and Israel. India is moving away from buying less expensive Russian arms, New Delhi observers note.
With the Cabinet loaded with supporters of this defense-policy orientation, Indian military brass were expecting a big rise in defence budget from the government.
King Gyanendra Is Not Isolated from People
Despite intense pressure exerted by the United States on the Nepali King Gyanendra to rectify his "arbitrary unilateral action" of bringing down the democratic process on Feb. 1, by sacking the Cabinet, dismissing the Parliament for three years, and seizing absolute power, it seems the people of Nepal have begun to move toward supporting the king they do not really like.
The Feb. 1 coup was strongly disliked by India as well. Washington pressured India to bring Nepal, which depends heavily on India for its daily survival, to its knees and undo the coup. The coup was carried out by King Gyanendra under the pretext of taking things into his own hands to eliminate the growing Maoist movement. India supports the elimination of the Maoists, but could not bring itself to support the King's unilateral action. Subsequently, India and Britain have notified Nepal that it would not send them arms.
The international media has followed the U.S. line and portrayed King Gyanendra as an isolated dictator. However, news coming out of Nepal indicates that the rural Nepalis were terrorized by the Maoists, and they are quite willing to give King Gyanendra absolute power to get rid of this menace. These rural Nepalis do not have anything against democracy, but the so-called democrats did nothing to stop the growing power of the murderous Maoists, some Nepalis claim.
India May Choose Japanese High-Speed Rail System
India may pick the Japanese Shinkansen train system to connect major cities, India News reported March 2. New Delhi is looking for a railroad system which would allow major cities 500 kilometer or so apart to become reachable by railroad in two hours. The Japanese have offered the Shinkansen (bullet train) system, which has been running for the last 40 years between Tokyo-Nagoa-Osaka-Hiroshima. Shinkansen runs at about 350 kilometers per hour (205 mph).
The first two cities that would be connected by fast train are Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The cost for the 500-kilometer line would work out a little over Rs. 650 million per kilometer, and the total would be about Rs. 350 billion (US$8 billion). The cost of the ongoing Delhi Metro, which will be completed by the end of this year, is close to Rs. 2 billion per kilometer.
The preliminary study was prepared by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). It will be presented in April to the Indian Parliament.
Pakistan Is Growing More Poppy
According to Pakistan's anti-narcotics chief, Maj. Gen. Nadeem Khan, the increased crop eradication and drug raids in Afghanistan are already having a negative effect on Pakistan. "Pakistan is likely to see an upsurge in poppy cultivation, the flow of laboratories from Afghanistan into Pakistan and storage sites shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan," Maj. Gen. Nadeem Khan told a news conference in Islamabad. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime representative, large areas of land along the Afghanistan borders in Pakistan are now growing poppies.
Venezuela's Chavez in India: Oil Deal Mooted
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived on March 5 in New Delhi for a four-day visit to India. He will be also visit Kolkata and Bangalore, and will address the students and faculty at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
The visit of Chavez is directly linked to India's growing interest in developing bilateral oil deals with oil-producing nations, and thus avoid the spot market as much as possible. The Indian national oil company, Oil and Natural Gas Company (Videsh), which has already invested in Iranian, Nigerian, Russian, and Kazakh oil fields, is interested in investing in Venezuelan oil fields as well.
Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, is already advising ONGC (Videsh) on extraction of heavy crude in India's northwestern desert state of Rajasthan.
Senior Statesmen Intervene To Rein In Thai Premier
Thai senior statesmen have intervened to rein in Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose belligerent response to the violence in the Islamic south has made the situation far worse, The Nation reported March 1. Former Prime Minister Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda, who is currently chairman of the Privy Council, and former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, have been called on to advise sitting Thaksin on how to deal with the three volatile provinces.
The intervention of two of Thailand's most senior statesmen to ease tension in three southern provinces, under the banner of invoking the " royal approach," signals the highest level of concern in Thai polity over the violence that has taken more than 600 lives since Jan. 4, 2004, and strongly points to the Thai royal family's keen concern, however oblique it may be.
UN Sends Mixed Message on Narcotics Production
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on Feb. 30 expressed concern that political instability in Myanmar might lead to increased production of illicit drugs in the country, despite the UN's earlier confirmation of a steady decline of opium production in recent years. Total poppy-cultivating areas in Myanmar (Burma) were reduced by 28%, from 62,200 hectares in 2003, to 44,200 hectares last year, according to the report.
At the same time, the UN International Narcotics Control Board's annual report for 2004, released March 3, states that illicit opium production was significantly reduced within the Golden Triangle border junction of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.
On the other hand, Laos is emerging as an important transit country for methamphetamines produced along the border with Burma and destined for Thailand and Cambodia, the report said.
Methamphetamines continue to be produced in China, Burma, and the Philippines, the UN Office of Drug and Crime said.
Clinton Visits Taiwan; Affirms 'One China' Policy
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Taipei, Taiwan Feb. 27-28, and called for cooperation between the island and mainland China. Before his stop in Taiwan, Clinton visited China, where he was told by Chinese officials that he should know better than to visit Taiwan. Clinton famously issued a "three no's" statement (No to independence, separate states, or Taiwan membership in international organizations of sovereign nations) in 1998, during a trip to China, solidly backing China's "One China" policy toward Taiwan.
Nonetheless, Clinton visited Taipei, met with President Chen Shuibian, and gave a speech on democracy and security in Asia, while insisting that he sticks by the "One China" policy. He said that "common humanity" was more important than differences. Clinton had visited Taiwan four times as governor of Arkansas.
'Head of Asian Terrorism' Tried, Gets Light Sentence
Abu Bakar Baasyir, who has been named by U.S. neo-cons as the head of Asian terrorism, was found "a little bit guilty," and received a short sentence in Indonesia, the Jakarta Post reported March 3. Baasyir had most of the charges dropped, was acquitted of responsibility for the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing, but was convicted of "conspiracy" in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing. He was given a 30-month sentence, which is likely to be overturned or reduced on appeal, since there was no evidence against him.
Baasyir (or Bashir) is everywhere in the West declared to be head of Jemaah Islamiyah (Islamic Community). He was a religious teacher of many of those who subsequently got involved in terrorism in Indonesia and Malaysia. He has insisted on his innocence, while denouncing the Bush "war on terrorism," and accusing the U.S. of interfering in the Indonesian judicial system to force his trial. In fact, the high point of the trial was the testimony of one Fred Burks, formerly a top-clearance translator for the U.S., who said that he had translated for a CIA official who had tried to coerce President Megawati Sukarnoputri into arresting Baasyir, and have him "rendered" to the U.S. or a third state (which Indonesia had done in two cases of non-Indonesians, at U.S. demands). Megawati refused rendition, but eventually there was a trial, despite only hearsay evidence, mostly from prisoners of the U.S., most likely extracted by torture. Burks has become a folk hero in Indonesia for his testimony.
The Americans, Australians, and others are screaming that the sentence is too light.