|Asia News Digest
Dow Jones Paper Calls for Overthrow of Thai Prime Minister
The Nation, an English-language paper in Bangkok partly owned by Dow Jones (the Wall Street Journal publisher), has been attacking Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ever since his overwhelming election victory in 2001, targetting especially his large infrastructure development policies, his health and development programs for the poor, and his refusal to join in the U.S. subversion of neighboring Myanmar. Thaksin's popularity has been slipping badly, however, due to his blundering failures in ending the violence in the Islamic regions in the south, his drive to privatize the state electricity corporation, his efforts to ram through a destructive free trade deal with the U.S., and, most recently, the sale of his nearly $2 billion interest in the telecommunication company he founded, Shin Corp., to the Singapore state telecom company.
In this context, Sondhi Limthongkul, a media mogul, has succeeded in drawing large numbers of protesters to his rallies, demanding Thaksin's resignation, based on Sondhi's reactionary call for returning Thailand to a monarchy, and populist attacks on Thaksin's corruption. A rally on Saturday, Feb. 4 brought about 60,000 to an all night event in Bangkok. Despite some violence at a previous rally, the Feb. 4 event remained peaceful.
Not good enough, cried the Dow Jones mouthpiece: "All of Thaksin's desperate attempts [to remain in power] could be rendered meaningless if the rally ends with an eruption of violence," wrote Supalak Ganjanakhundee in The Nation on the day of the rally. "Thailand's political history shows that mass rallies that leave people dead and wounded eventually involve a government leader being forced to step down. Field Marshals Thanom Kittikachorn and Prapas Jarusathien, and General Suchinda Kraprayoon are good examples of leaders who were disgraced after uprisings against their administrations ended in fatalities. Thaksin could face the same destiny as these three should today's rally overflow the streets and tempers flare." The Wall Street synarchists will surely try again.
Dow Jones Is Running a Campaign of Subversion in Thailand
On the second week of rallies demanding the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Shinawatra, The Nation of Bangkok transformed its website into a central command for regime change. After a call for violence on the day of the first rally, Feb. 4 (see above), a second rally was held on Feb. 11. Logging into the website of The Nation, one is greeted with a photo of the rally, with the words: "From the Royal Plaza, Round TwoThe Torch has been passed by Sondhi Limthongkul to a Major Coalition of Civil Groups! Click to read our real-time coverage of the anti-Thaksin rally led by the People's Alliance for Democracy!" Then it moves to a running log, minute by minute, of the numbers gathered in the plaza, the speeches, and other developments. One is reminded of the BBC running Ayatollah Khomeini's coup in Iran in 1979.
The rally passed peacefully, with the next round to be Feb. 26.
ADB Chief Blasts Asian Bilateral Free-Trade Deals
A proliferation of bilateral free-trade agreements in Asia risks creating a "spaghetti bowl" of overlapping measures that could actually harm companies, Asian Development Bank president Haruhiko Kuroda said on Feb. 9 in Tokyo, according to the Bangkok Post. "We now have an explosion of new trade and investment incentives," Kuroda said, "currently 15 under implementation, close to 10 signed, more than 20 under negotiation and at least 16 more proposed," which will make trade relations both confusing and expensive for individual companies to figure out. He added that a regional free-trade area across East Asia, or a China-Japan FTA, are highly unlikely at this time.
This plethora of bilateral FTAs came at the insistence of the Anglo-American financial institutions in the late 1990s, when ASEAN and China refused the conditions being demanded by the Washington consensus for a "NAFTA"-style regional agreement with the U.S. The U.S. idea was to break down the resistance by foot-in-the-door deals, first with Singapore, then spreading out from there. Thailand is about to fall prey to this approach, with a U.S.-Thai FTA aiming at completion in April.
Philippines Senate Challenges President's Gag Order
Philippine Senators, before the Supreme Court on Feb. 4, called for the abolition of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Executive Order 464, the gag order on government officials under the executive department banning them from testifying before any and all legislative investigations. The Senate's lawyers also said the President was criminally liable for issuing the EO, violating Article 150 of the Revised Penal Code that punishes persons "who shall restrain another from attending as a witness when summoned before a legislative committee." As with the "unitary executive" battle that erupted during the confirmation hearings of Judge Samuel Alito in the U.S., the Arroyo Administration is refusing to recognize the constitutional mandate for the Congress to oversee the Executivewhile at the same time she is trying to eliminate the Senate altogether, along with the "checks and balances" of the Constitution, by switching to a Parliamentary system.
The gag order was imposed to stop military and Cabinet officials from testifying in the investigation of Arroyo's taped conversations with election officials, discussing the fixing of the election in 2004. Adding to the crisis, on Feb. 9, the Administration instructed Cabinet members not to testify about the Administration's proposed budget!
U.S. Troops Arrive in the Philippine Island of Jolo
Jolo, an island off of the main southern island of Mindanao, is famous as the scene of bloody battles between Moro warriors and U.S. Marines during the U.S. colonial war in the Philippines, in the early years of the 20th Century. While memories are long in the region, Jolo is also today considered to be at least partially under the control of the Abu Saayaf killer gang. Philippine military officers, in discussion with EIR, questioned why the U.S. would send troops to this location for "training," since it is begging for a confrontation, and expressed concern that an incident could serve as an excuse for escalation of U.S. military operations beyond such "training."
About a dozen U.S. troops aboard a Philippine Navy vessel arrived at the Jolo pier on Feb. 10 with heavy equipment, preparing to greet some 250 U.S. soldiers who will take part in the exercise, which will focus on civic works and humanitarian activities, from Feb. 20 until March 5.
Just minutes before the Americans arrived, the head of Philippine police intelligence in Jolo was shot dead by a suspected Abu Sayyaf gunman. The assailant easily escaped into a nearby housing area. If a U.S. soldier is killed in such a manner, what will the U.S. response be? The U.S. State Department has tagged the Abu Sayyaf, or (in Arabic) Bearer of the Sword, as a "foreign terrorist organization" and has put up millions of dollars in rewards for the capture of its leaders following the deaths of two U.S. civilian hostages at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf in 2002.