|Asia News Digest
Another Snow Job! U.S. Treasury Secretary in India
With nothing much under his control in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Treasury John Snow last week visited India on behalf of the retailers of United States. Speaking at the Confederate of Indian Industries in New Delhi on Nov. 9, Snow said India should allow more foreign investment in infrastructure and open up its retail sector for further investment "to keep pace with the global economy."
Gifted with eyes (one cannot be so sure of his other faculties), Snow did notice India's poor physical infrastructure. Suggesting as potential areas of investment roads, ports, airports, and the power sector, he said: "Infrastructure in India needs more finance ... opening up the sector further will help to develop long-term project financing and corporate bond market."
India Pushes Ahead with Indian Ocean Security
As part of India's ongoing effort to gain greater security control over the Indian Ocean by achieving greater security control over Indian Ocean littoral countries, new agreements were reached last week between India and Mauritius.
Visiting India, Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchadra Ramgoolam requested military supplies. Responding to his request, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to supply advanced light helicopters, an offshore patrol vessel, and a coastal surveillance radar system to strengthen Mauritius' security forces. To expedite the process, India will be supplying the equipment on credit.
Indonesian Inflation May Hit 17% by Year's End
Indonesia is now facing a hyperinflationary burst as a result of the huge cut in fuel subsidies in October, which raised fuel costs by 125%. According to the Jakarta-based Asia Pulse, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Aburizal Bakkrie says Indonesia's rate of inflation "is already 15.65%, but by the end of the year it will rise beyond projections to perhaps 17%." Already the year-on-year (October 2004 to October 2005) figure has reached 17.89%. The fuel-oil price hikes directly contributed 3.47% to October inflation, while increased transportation rates, just one of the derivative prices hit by the fuel rise, were responsible for 2%. Food prices have risen 7.2% on average.
Six-Power Talks Snag After U.S. Demands Pyongyang Blink First
The six-power talks on the Korea crisis (involved are the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, Russia, China, Japan), recently reconvened, hit a snag after the U.S. demanded that North Korea blink first.
North Korea on Nov. 9 repeated its proposal that the U.S. provide the Clinton-promised civilian nuclear reactor as a first move to establish trust. This was rejected by U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill, who demanded that the North move first to close its plutonium reactor. "Yongbyon has continued to produce material that can be turned into weapons-grade plutonium," Hill said Nov. 9. "That means that we have a bigger problem than we had on Sept. 19," when the talks recessed. "The time to stop that reactor is now." Hill also demanded that Pyongyang "make a declaration of what else it has for nuclear programs,"that is, voluntarily surrender the uranium weapons which North Korea says don't exist.
North Korean envoy Kim Kye-gwan replied Nov. 10 with an angry attack on recent U.S. unilateral actions based on "false charges," which he said so undermine trust that North Korea cannot act first. The U.S. Treasury, in early October, blacklisted eight North Korean companies and froze their U.S. assets, charging them with "aiding proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" by narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and dollar counterfeiting. "This is not the correct attitude for negotiations," Kim said; thereupon negotiations had to be halted for the day.
"The U.S. sees North Korea's closure of the plutonium reactor as the first step for building trust," South Korean negotiator Song Min-soon told the press. He cited the offer Nov. 1 by U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow, that Washington, in exchange, might open a representative office in Pyongyang. "That would be the way forward, a lot of things are possible," Hill said of Vershbow's comment.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the talks would continue through Nov. 11 as scheduled, although negotiations were getting tough. "They have yet to reach a compromise on the framework of how to implement the Sept. 19 agreement," he remarked Nov. 10. Hill said it was unlikely that they could create working groups this week. "We only have a three-day session, so we're just gathering ideas," he said. The talks are to recess for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit Nov. 14-16 in South Korea, then supposedly resume later in November.
Bush Demands North Korea Act First To Disarm
Speaking Nov. 9 in Washington, while the six-power talks were underway in Beijing, President George W. Bush demanded that North Korea act first to disarm, before any U.S. response. "We want to see tangible results in the dismantling of nuclear weapons programs; then at the appropriate time, we'll discuss the light water reactor," he told reporters from Japan, China, and South Korea in an interview about his upcoming trip to Asia. Bush said he was concerned over hunger and forced-labor camps in North Korea. "Whether starvation and hunger, or other such things, the North Korean leader's responsibility is to address that," he said.
Meanwhile, also Nov. 9, former President George H.W. Bush met South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun in Seoul at the Blue House, trying to patch up the gaping holes in the U.S.-South Korean alliance made by Dick Cheney and his neo-con thugs. South Korean diplomats say the alliance is in danger of snapping.
Roh praised the former President for his "contribution to global peace and democracy around the world." Bush Sr. was in Seoul to attend the annual forum of Donald Gregg's Korean-American Association.