|Asia News Digest
Bush Administration at Odds Over North Korea Policy
Over the weekend of June 4-5, a "senior Pentagon figure" told the media travelling with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Asia that the U.S. would be deciding within a few weeks, whether or not to take North Korea to the UN. But, on June 6, the New York Times released a report based on discussions with the colleagues of the U.S. representative to the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, confirming Japanese reports of new contacts between Hill's office and the North Korean mission in New York, following meetings which took place in May. David Sanger of the Times reported that "the long debate in the Administration over how to handle North Korea may be coming to a boil," and that Hill is "looking for leeway to give North Korea incentives to return to the talks, but is meeting resistance from officials who want to stand pat with Mr. Bush's vaguely worded offer last June to improve relations once North Korea begins dismantling its nuclear facilities and allows full inspections"i.e., Cheney's position that Pyongyang submit or be bombed.
A former Bush Administration official who worked on North Korea told EIR that Hill, who negotiated the Bosnia agreement in 1995, is trying to get some negotiating room from the Administration, but the source doesn't think he'll get it, since the rest of the Administration is in lock-step on the "implementation team," as he calls it, referring to the Cheneyacs.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, President Bush, and Rumsfeld all officially distanced themselves from the "senior Pentagon official" who put a limit of a few weeks on taking the Korea issue to the UN, with Rice saying that that was too "forward leaning."
U.S. Embassy Implicated in Alleged Philippine Vote Fraud
Videotapes which appear to show Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband arranging vote fraud are reported to have come from the U.S. embassy, according to the Daily Tribune June. 7. The tapes, which have been reported privately for months, were released by the Presidential Palace after being leaked on the radio, with claims that they had been doctored. When Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the government was investigating the report that the tapes had come from the U.S. embassy, a firestorm erupted. While the embassy denied the story, it is believable, given the "parting shot" of outgoing neo-con U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardoni last month. Ricciardoni called on the Filipino people to use "peaceful" means to bring about regime changean overt reference to the "Soros-style" mass demonstrations, called "people's power," which covered for two previous U.S.-orchestrated coups in the Philippinesagainst Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Miguel Estrada in 2001.
Senate opposition leader Aquilino Pimentel called for Arroyo to resign, while the minority leader in the House, Rep. Francis Escudero, said that the government's "excessive paranoia" in releasing the tapes will backfire on them.
Arroyo is already under threat of impeachment for a variety of sins. Brigadier Gen. Jose Angel Honrado, spokesman for the military leadership, on June 6 admitted that there was extensive recruitment going on in military and police ranks for a coup.
Philippines Military on Full Alert as Presidential Crisis Mounts
The military alert comes in the midst of a raging crisis over the release of a tape which may show President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband talking to election officials about fixing the May 2004 election, while Arroyo was also forced to call for a special investigation into what she admitted were "serious" charges against her husband, her son, and her brother-in-law for taking illegal payoffs from the numbers racketthe same charges used to justify the coup against former President Miguel Estrada in 2001.
Even if the tapes were doctored, as Arroyo claims, the fact that the President was being taped is a crisis in itself. Only the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) and the U.S. embassy are believed to have the capability to do such a wiretapping. The head of the ISAFP, Brig. Gen. Marlou Quevedo was suddenly replaced June 9 without explanation.
Arroyo gave a live radio interview announcing that she would not resign, nor stop implementing austerity policies to the starving nation, which she describes as efforts to "revive the economy." The stock market collapsed by 7% over a three-day period, as the crisis unfolded, and the peso fell to a new low against the dollar.
Arroyo also forced the resignation of the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, Roy Seneres, accusing him of meeting with U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardoni in an effort to bring about her ouster through another phony "people's power" front for a coup. Seneres, who admits meeting with Ricciardoni, claims that the ambassador said that only "constitutional means" should be used to replace the Presidentbut that the "people's power" coups were in fact "constitutional."
The Bush Administration's anger over the Arroyo government's pullout from Iraq, and Manila's growing ties with China, have been cited in the Philippine press as possible reasons for U.S. backing for a coup, as in 1986 and 2001.
Malaysia Rules Out Foreign Military in Malacca Straits
Malaysia firmly opposes any idea of allowing foreign naval or coast guard vessels to act as armed escorts against pirate attacks for ships passing through the Straits of Malacca, Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak told the annual Shangri-la Dialogue held in Malaysia June 5.
"Malaysia is steadfast in its belief that the littoral statesSingapore, Indonesia, and Malaysiaare capable of patrolling the Straits without external intervention."
Najib, who is also the Defense Minister, said while Malaysia recognizes that it has been a common practice for merchant ships to carry small firearms in the Straits, Malaysia is concerned about the possibility of introducing larger and more offensive systems.
Regarding the "private" security operations which are hiring themselves out as armed escorts to ships passing through the Straits, Najib said they are obliged to let them pass, but, "It is at this point that we strongly feel the role of these private security companies should be controlled and regulated and should not impinge on our national sovereignty."
"If the governments can take action against their nationals who committed transnational crimes, that would eliminate the threat," said Tun Razak, adding that it would also be the most effective and cheapest way to eliminate pirates.
Powerful Explosion Targets Bus in Nepal
An explosion killed 40 people and injured over 70, destroying a crowded bus in a rural southern area of Nepal June 5. The powerful explosion, in which about 50 pounds of explosives were buried beneath the roadway, lifted the bus in the air; it split apart as it hit the ground. Police said that the bomb was manually triggered by a wire leading to a tree several hundred feet away, so the operative could obviously see the crowded condition of the bus. Police are blaming Maoist rebels, who control the entire region; however, no one has yet claimed responsibility.
The Maoists have been rebelling in Nepal since 1996, ostensibly trying to establish a communist regime. So far, all they have managed to do is kill over 11,000 victims.
Japan's Population Has Virtually Stopped Growing
One in five Japanese has passed his or her or her 65th birthday and the national fertility rate is spiralling downwards. The national pension system is bracing for a wave of retirees expected in 2007, but cultural resistance makes inviting immigration a taboo subject.
A government white paper shows the population grew by just 67,000, or 0.05%, to 127 million in the year ending October 2004. Without drastic change, the population will stop growing as early as 2006, and begin falling with increasing rapidity until it gets close to 100 million in 2050.
The number of people aged 65 or older is growing by 570,000 or 2.3% in the year to October. Elderly people now make up 19.5% of the population. By the end of 2005, one-fifth of the population will be elderly, and by 2040 that figure will be one-third.
The government and manufacturing industry are working on programs to keep people over 60 in the workforce, but they cannot do much about longevity. In just eight years, the number of Japanese living past 90 has grown from 474,000 to 1.06 million. According to the white paper, age-related social welfare costs, including pensions and medical expenses, account for 70% of government spending on social welfare.
Meanwhile, the Japanese fertility ratethe number of live births in an average woman's lifetimecontinues to spiral downwards. A study released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry shows the latest fertility rate at 1.29, marginally worse than the last survey in 2003 and the lowest on record. Australia's rate is 1.7 and falling, and Italy's is worse than Japan's at 1.24but those countries have bolstered their demographics by a relatively relaxed attitude to immigration.
Japan does not have that attitude, despite some efforts of the big business group, the Nippon Keidanren, which has been trying to start a debate about opening the door to allow in permanent foreign workers.
Anwar Ibrahim Seeks Political Comeback
Malaysia's former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has accepted an invitation by the Islamic PAS Party to lead an opposition coalition, Radio Australia reported June 6. PAS made the offer at its annual conference in Malaysia.
Young reformers swept internal elections of PAS (Parti Islam Se Malaysia) over the June 5-6 weekend.
Speaking to Radio Australia from New York, Anwar said PAS has been demonized in the international media as another "Taliban," but said the label is absurd, as PAS shares his reform agenda.
Anwar is best known for inciting mass demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur against then-Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad's imposition of currency controls.
Subsequently, Anwar was prosecuted and convicted on corruption charges, and is prohibited from holding public office until 2008 because of that conviction.