|Asia News Digest
IMF Offers Philippines a Deal They Can't Refuse
The leading Philippines newspaper, the Inquirer, reported April 21 that, "In line with new financial standards as recommended by the International Monetary Fund, the Department of Finance will no longer include liabilities of government financial institutions in computing the public-sector debt, which would significantly improve the Philippines' debt picture, a department official said." While the foregoing may sound like a spoof, it is not. The Philippines will "save" about $20 billion by dropping the debt of the Central Bank, the Land Bank of the Philippines, and the partly-government-owned Philippine National Bank, from the computation.
Liabilities of the financial sector will still be reported, but only as a memorandum item, the official said, reporting that other countries have begun computing public-sector debts using the "new method."
Political Brawl in Indonesia Over Nuclear Plants
Indonesian Energy Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro on April 19 contradicted earlier comments by the head of the country's Atomic and Nuclear Energy Agency, Sudyartomo Suntono, who had announced that authorities had given the green light to plans to build a nuclear plant that will begin producing electricity in 2016. Instead, the Energy Minister said Indonesia would seek public approval before building its first nuclear-power station, a controversial plan to site a plant on the densely populated island of Java. Even worse, Yusgiantoro said that the government was prioritizing alternative sources of energy ahead of nuclear power. He cited untapped geothermal resources, which he said could generate up to 20,000 megawatts of electricity.
Atomic and Nuclear Energy Agency spokesman Deddy Harsono had told AFP April 17 that the nuclear project "will be tendered in 2008 for start of construction in 2010 and production in 2016." He explained that the site of the project, the Muria peninsula on Central Java province's northeast coast, was chosen for its tectonic and volcanic stabilitya major concern in a country that experiences regular eruptions and earthquakes.
Indonesian nuclear-power plans were shelved in 1997 after a huge international greenie mobilization against them, but also due to the discovery and exploitation of the large Natuna gas field. Then, the 1997-98 collapse of the Indonesian currency, the rupiah, ended all plans until now. Under the original plan, 12 nuclear plants were slated for the northern coast of Java, with a total capacity of 7,000 megawatts.
Manila Won't Contest Myanmar's ASEAN Chairmanship
Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's government will not contest Myanmar's assumption of the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year, Arroyo announced on April 19. The President said it would be "imprudent" for the country to question Myanmar's leadership of ASEAN, since the Philippines stood to benefit from the outcome. "We go with the ASEAN consensus," Arroyo told reporters in Malacanang. She said the Myanmar issue was discussed among ASEAN heads of state "frequently," but only on an "informal basis."
Breakthrough Signalled in Philippine-MILF Talks
The prospect of a breakthrough in peace talks to end the 27-year-old war between Philippines government forces and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) appeared on April 21, when talks taking place in the southern Philippines resulted in a declaration that formal peace negotiations were expected to begin within months. In a joint statement, both sides "hailed the outcome of the meeting as a breakthrough" toward a just and durable solution to the conflict in the southern island of Mindanao.
The breakthrough came when the MILF said they would be willing to compromise on their demand for "ancestral domain," which refers to their claim to the island, where they have fought for 27 years to establish an independent Islamic state.
Malaysia's Space Launch Set for October 2007
Malaysia will announce the names of its first pair of astronauts by the end of 2005 and plan to be in space in October 2007, the New Straits Times of Kuala Lumpur reported April 17. Russia is helping Malaysia send its first astronaut into space, as part of a package, following Malaysia's purchase of 18 Sukhoi military jets. "We will have the names of the two astronauts by the end of this year. One will be on standby, while the other will be sent into space," Datuk Dr. Mazlan Othman said in an interview with the Times. The two will be selected from 3,500 candidates drawn from more than 7,000 applicants, most of whom were under 40, and 18% of whom were women.
Musharraf Gives U.S. Two More Air Bases
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf agreed to provide the U.S. with two more air bases during Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Reports say that Afghanistan has assured Rumsfeld that it will allow five more bases (bringing the total to eight). Musharraf's assurances would bring the number of U.S. airbases in Pakistan to five.
The two new Pakistani bases will be near Karachi and Islamabad. The other three are in Dalbandin, Jacobabad, and Pasni. While the previous three were identified for use only in search-and-rescue operations, setting up two air bases near major citiesone of them the capitalraises questions. When Rumsfeld was asked about the bases, he was quoted as saying that the number is not important, but "what is important is what we do with them." One thing the U.S. plans to "do" with these bases is to station a large contingent of Special Forces inside Pakistan. Our source report indicates the U.S. plans to station as many as 9,000 Special Forces in Pakistan once the two bases are acquired. In return, Washington has agreed to provide Pakistan with F-16 fighter planes.
Afghan Government Cut Out of Reconstruction Aid
Afghan Finance Minister Anwar Al-Haq Ahadi told Radio Free Europe on April 18 that Afghanistan's government controls less than one-third of the reconstruction aid to the country, after the U.S.-led war. He was speaking from Washington, where he was attending the IMF-World Bank annual spring meeting. "If most of the money were to be channelled through the government, we think there would be more coherence to the programs, greater rationality to it, and we think greater effectiveness. Usually the argument is used that the Afghan government does not have the capacity to handle this amount of money for reconstruction," he said.
Donors last year in Berlin pledged more than $8 billion to Afghanistan over a period of up to three years. In addition, Washington has proposed spending more than $5 billion on assistance to Afghanistan in its next budget. President Hamid Karzai, in a recent outburst, said the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have salted away the money, living high on the hog.
Ahadi told Radio Free Europe that the international efforts to build schools and improve infrastructure in Afghanistan would be better run by the government: "It is clinics, it's bridges, it's roads. In all those areas we would be able to do better in terms of cost-effectiveness."
The Taliban Open a Radio Station
To all those who believed the Taliban were dead and gone, the message that the Taliban delivered through their newly-opened radio station in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar is that they are alive and well. The name of the station is Shariat Shagh, or Voice of Shariat.
Nor have Taliban activities on the ground come to a screeching halt. On April 19, the outgoing U.S. commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, indicated that Pakistan is ready once more to begin a fresh operation against foreign terrorists and the Taliban in North Waziristana tribal agency in Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. Barno said the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda were planning "to stage some high-visibility attack over the next six to nine months that would get them back on the scoreboard after suffering strategic defeats last year."