|Asia News Digest
India, Japan To Develop Natural Gas in the Andaman Sea
Japan and India have agreed on the joint development of natural gas off the Andaman islands in the Bay of Bengal, the Nihon Keizei Shimbun reported. The agreement was reached when Shinzo Abe, a Japanese opposition leader, met with the Indian Premier Manmohan Singh in Delhi on March 28.
The natural gas deal is also aimed at strengthening bilateral ties, because Japan's ruling party hopes to use its strong partnership with India to keep in check China's increasing presence in western Asia, the report said. It noted that China is extending ties with Myanmar, with its troops deployed on Myanmar-held islands north of the Andaman Islands.
India Cautions Developing Nations on WTO
Urging the developing nations to close ranks, Indian Commerce Secretary S. N. Menon, addressing the leading Indian Chambers of Commerce at New Delhi, said: "There are attempts at creating further differentiation among the developing countries.... We must see that there is no further division or we will lose our strength of negotiating at WTO [the World Trade Organization]."
Stressing increasing South-South trade, Menon said India was actively looking at how it can open up its markets for the Least Developed Countries.
Menon cautioned the developing nations, saying that the developed nations are now pushing for tightening of the "scrutiny of preferences" (under which the WTO demands to examine, imperial-style, trade agreements of member countries under the Regional Trade Agreements), and that this should be resisted by developing nations.
Kuomintang Leaders Visit China; First Time Since 1949
Leaders of Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT) party began a five-day visit to mainland China March 28, their first official visit since 1949. Party vice chairman Chiang Pin-Kun is leading a 30-member delegation in a visit to Guangzhou and Nanjing, and then to Beijing, to pay respects to the late Chinese nationalist leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen and to the KMT martyrs of the April 1911 Huanghuagang Uprising, which was led by Dr. Sun. The delegation is visiting to mark the Qingming Festival, a time to pay respects to the dead. After Guangzhou, they will go to the beautiful Mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen in Nanjing.
This is the first visit of KMT officials since the Revolution of 1949, when Mao's People's Liberation Army defeated the KMT forces in China. The KMT is now leading the opposition in Taiwan, and this visit is intended to ease relations across the Taiwan Straits. On his arrival, Chiang Pin-Kun said: "We hope to help ease cross-strait tensions to ensure people's well-being,... [and] to do what the government [led by the 'pro-independence' Democratic Progressive Party (DDP)] does not do and cannot do." Before he left Taiwan, Chiang said: "We oppose Taiwan independence. We advocate peace across the Straits and oppose the mainland using force."
A leading issue of Chiang Pin-Kun's visit is improving economic relations. On the agenda are expanding exports of Taiwan agricultural produce to the mainland, and increasing direct air links across the Taiwan Straits. During the Spring Festival this year, direct charter flights were started for the first time, and these may be expanded to other festivals and even regular weekend service. Chiang also wants to negotiate opening direct cargo transport links, since so many Taiwanese have set up manufacturing facilities on the mainland. In Guangzhou, the biggest center of Taiwanese investment in China (worth some US$35.6 billion), Chiang met with leaders of the Taiwanese community. The China Daily quoted Frank Tsai, executive director of Airmate Electrical (Shenzhen) Co. Ltd., saying that, "As a leader of Taiwan, [President and DDP leader] Chen Shui-bian should focus his efforts on boosting economic development and trying to ensure Taiwanese people live better lives, instead of frequently challenging the mainland's bottom line."
U.S. Does Not Want Democracy in Afghanistan
The United States has made clear, by postponing Parliamentary elections from October 2004, to May 2005, to September 2005, that it does not want democracy in Afghanistan, according to an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail April 1. Steve Coll, managing editor of the Washington Post and the author of Ghost War, a book about post-Soviet Afghanistan, writes in the Globe and Mail, that at this point, if President Hamid Karzai is assassinated, Afghanistan's political situation will be exactly what it was in the winter of 2001. If the Parliament had been formed, the process itself would have helped to create a successor to Karzai. At this point in time, Pushtuns do not have a political party, unless Taliban is considered as one, and the northern Afghans are maintaining their ethno-centered militia as their political identity.
Coll is right, and he is worried, like many others. There is a strong belief within the U.S. military that Karzai may not last through this summer. The usual spring violence has begun. On March 30, as First Lady Laura Bush landed in Kabul, a bomb went off, killing several people. On April 1, a bomb attack on a Canadian embassy car in Kabul injured a Canadian and three Afghans. These are just the opening salvos.
North Korea Raises the Bar
North Korea's Foreign Ministry has requested that the six-party talks sought by the United States to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program be transformed into regional disarmament negotiations that also address the U.S. deployments in northeast Asia. At the same time, according to the International Herald Tribune April 2, a senior North Korean government official announced they would not return to the six-party talks unless Washington apologized for calling the Communist nation an "outpost of tyranny," as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did during her Senate confirmation hearing; she has since refused to retract her description of the country.
North Korea's announcement on April 1 that any negotiations on curbing its nuclear ambitions must also discuss curtailing U.S. military influence in northeast Asia as well, will further undermine possibility of talks.
Washington must realize that its attempt to tighten screws on China will have a decidedly negative effect in dealing with North Korea. But that is exactly what Washington is involved in.