|Asia News Digest
Showdown in Philippines Over Impeachment of President
The Philippines Administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has decided to use a technicality to essentially dismiss an impeachment effort in the House of Representatives. The Constitution only allows one impeachment petition per year, so, as the pressure grew against the President earlier this year, one of her associates filed a weak and flawed petition which was sure to fail. The opposition has filed a competent petition, but as of Aug. 31, the Administration is moving to dismiss the competent filing, and accepting only the incompetent one, to effectively kill the whole thing.
The situation is unclear as of now, but there is mounting anger and instability across the country, on top of the general economic breakdown. A special IMF team has announced that it will visit Manila on Sept. 7, threatening Arroyo not to hold back on austerity measures (especially a new VAT value-added tax), despite the fact that these measures could well cause a social explosion.
North Korea Protests Bush's 'Human Rights' Envoy
Thailand's Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon, who has been cooperating with China in relations with Pyongyang, visited his North Korean counterpart on Aug. 27, and reported afterwards that "The North Koreans said that they are willing to dismantle their nuclear weapons and go back to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty], allowing the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to step in, as long as there is trust among the parties concerned." He said that they would not join the talks, scheduled to resume Aug. 30.
At issue is the recent White House appointment of Jay Lefkowitz as "special envoy to North Korea for Human Rights." Lefkowitz, a Washington lawyer who served Bush on his Domestic Policy Council, has more recently been writing for the neo-con National Review and Wall Street Journal covering such things as his support for Natan Sharansky's ravings that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. The appointment, which appears to be Cheney's effort to undermine the six-party talks (and the efforts of some in the State Department to push them forward), has done its job, as North Korea has demanded that the envoy be "removed immediately," calling it an "act of bad omen that hurts our generous and flexible efforts to resolve the nuclear problem," and postponed the talks.
Thai Gov't Holds Secret Talks with Southern Separatists
The government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has undertaken secret talks with the Southern separatist Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO), in Switzerland last week, a spokesman for PULO made public Aug. 28. In an apparent about-face by the Thaksin Administration, which has largely taken a hard line over reconciliation, the Thai government last week held four days of talks with PULO in Lausanne, a senior PULO figure claimed. Rather, he said, "The Thais do not want people to know about this." Wan Kadir, a former top separatist leader of PULO, dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, now lives in exile in Sweden, and is said also not to have been a party to the talks. Colonel Somkuan Sangpattaranate, spokesman of the Southern Border Provinces Peace-Building Command, declined to comment on the talks.
Polio Spreads in Indonesia
An outbreak of polio in Indonesia has affected 226 people, mostly children, and it could spread to neighboring countries, the United Nations health agency has warned.
Indonesia has mobilized 750,000 workers and volunteers to immunize 24 million children across the vast archipelago of more than 6,000 islands, which make up Indonesia.
The World Health Organization expressed confidence that its nationwide vaccination campaign to vaccinate all children under age 5, starting next week, would halt the spread of the disease. "Polio is not only an issue in Indonesia because it paralyzes children, but is an international issue," said Dr. David Heymann, head of WHO's polio eradication campaign.
A 20-month-old toddler diagnosed with polio in March was the country's first case since 1995. Authorities believe the child came in contact with a migrant worker or tourist who was infected in the Middle East or Africa. Since then, Indonesia has seen a steady increase of cases, mostly on the country's main island of Java, but also spreading to Sumatra Island which was devastated by last year's Christmas tsunami. Ten polio cases have been identified in Lampung Province, Sumatra.
Dr. Heymann said that Indonesia is the only country with an expanding epidemic, but alarmist rumors aimed at frightening people away from taking the vaccine have heightened Indonesia's vulnerability. Efforts to convince the population it is safe, including both the government and the Ulama, are considered to have been successful in the run-up to the mass campaign this week. (See InDepth this week for report on Indonesia's battle against the speculators.)
Will India Be Invited To Join Russia-China War Games?
India may be invited to join Russia and China in future trilateral war games, like the recent Chinese-Russian maneuvers, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Aug. 28. "I think more Russian-Chinese military exercises will be held, and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will probably take part in them, including countries with observer status, like India," Ivanov said.
In October, India and Russia will hold their first-ever joint army drill, in which elite paratroopers will be dropped into Rajasthan's Aravali hills to destroy a "terrorist" base, Press Trust of India reported Aug. 20.
On Aug. 29, Moscow's Nezavisimaya Gazeta also reported that Russia, China, and India plan to conduct a new joint military exercise. NezGaz reported that Andrei Kokoshin, a former Secretary of the Russian Security Council and a member of Parliament, had said the forthcoming exercise could be part of a Russia-China-India triangle and the increased activity of the SCO.
Chinese Economists Call for Revival of 'New Deal' Policy
Some Chinese economists are calling for a revival of the "New Deal" national investment policy of former Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, to avoid a serious slowdown of the economy Xinhua reported Aug. 30. In the past two years, the new government has carried out a policy of "prudent" investment control in order to try to rein in lopsided economic growth in some sectors which was putting an intolerable strain on the "bottlenecks" in China's energy, transport, water, and other infrastructure.
The economists are calling for reviving Zhu Rongji's policies, and for Beijing to start issuing a greater number of treasury bonds to finance public works. Among the problems China is now facing are slowing import growth, inclusively due to the excessive prices of oil and other raw materials imports; too-low inflation (the risk of deflation); and lower industrial profits.
Economist He Fan of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and adviser to the government, said that: "If there was only one of these three signals, we should hesitate to say the economy is slowing down, but all three are happening together, so we are quite confident in saying that there is a danger of a slowdown....
"It may be that a lot of government officials have been brainwashed by the Washington consensus and care too much about fiscal discipline and budget balancing," he said. "We need a more proactive fiscal policy."
He said that the economy, which grew at 9.5% last year, must expand by at least 8.5% so that the government can create 8 million new jobs. If it drops below 8.0%, he said, "there will be a problem."