|Asia News Digest
China Ready for Joint Energy Projects with U.S.
According to a report quoted by Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections March 17, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in Beijing that China "stands ready to cooperate with the United States and other countries on the basis of equality and mutual benefit" in terms of energy.
Qin Gang's statement was issued days after U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind) had said it was critical for the U.S. to increase energy cooperation with China and India, calling Washington's energy dependence "the albatross" of U.S. national security. "There is a great potential for the two countries and an extensive range of areas for cooperation," Qin added. Han Xiaoping, CEO of Falcon Power, an energy consultancy in Beijing, said the U.S. and China should work together on natural gas exploration, perhaps with American companies becoming more active in China.
Meanwhile, ministers from the Group of 8 (U.S., Britain, Canada, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Russia) are working to secure global energy supplies, with Moscow and Washington pressing for a nuclear fuel network and Europe seeking reliable natural gas deliveries from Russia. Europeans are nervous about decreasing gas production in Russia and they also worry that if Russia's gas consumption increases, or its gas exports to other countries, such as China, increase, Europe may not get the required amount in the future.
India To Participate in FutureGen Project
India and the U.S. signed a protocol on April 4 for New Delhi's participation in the $950 million FutureGen project, the Press Trust of India. The signing was a follow-up to President Bush's visit to India in early March when the U.S. President had urged New Delhi to join the project.
FutureGen is an initiative to build the world's first integrated sequestration and hydrogen-production research power plant. The project is intended to create the world's first zero-emissions fossil-fuel plant and is an initiative of the Bush White House.
FutureGen has, however, drawn stiff criticism from the TVA, which has indicated no plan to put its money in the project. Jack Bailey, TVA's vice president of power resource planning, said the Administration's $950 million FutureGen program remains a "research and development project at this stage." Bailey indicated that the TVA "has other needs for the money right now than to spend it on FutureGen."
Meanwhile, the FutureGen project is moving forward. The Department of Energy, which will provide $700 million, will jointly develop the project, including siting, technology selection, construction and operation, with FutureGen Industrial Alliance, Inc. Alliance members are: American Electric Power, BHP Billiton, CONSOL Energy Inc., Foundation Coal, China Huaneng Group, Kennecott Energy, Peabody Energy, and Southern Company.
Taliban on the Rise Along Afghan Border
The influence of the Taliban is reportedly on the rise in the tribal areas of Pakistan's northwestern borders along Afghanistan, a center of opium production, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer April 4 and Afghan media. Although more than 80,000 Pakistani troops have been deployed in the region now for three years, the Telegraph of London says many politicians from the area, media commentators, and retired army officers in Pakistan, together feel "the exercise has yielded little positive result." Kabul and the foreign troops based in Afghanistan are anticipating a major Taliban push this spring.
Recently, senior American military officer in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Elkenberry told the media that he expects the violence to get worse over the spring and summer. The visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Richard Boucher, has also come to the conclusion that the expansion of NATO troops will enhance violence. "One of the unfortunatemaybe inevitableside effects is that we will probably see a rise in violence this year as NATO spreads into these areas [where opium is grown] in a more dense fashion, as the insurgents try to test the new force, as the government takes on the narcotics traffickers."
But the Post-Intelligencer points to Afghanistan's shattered economy as the backdrop of this gathering crisis. The country's 24 million people are totally dependent on foreign aid, opium-poppy cultivation, and remittances sent home by the 5 million Afghans living abroad. Afghanistan ranks fifth from the bottom on the UN Development Program's Human Development Index, despite Washington's claimed successes.
Kiriyenko To Visit India
The chief of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency (ROSATOM), Sergei Kiriyenko, visited New Delhi April 6-8. As Indian media in New Delhi reported April 4, "During Kiriyenko's three-day visit, the heads of the atomic energy agencies of Russia and India will discuss prospects for the development of cooperation between the two countries in the field of high nuclear technologies and nuclear power engineering," said Rosatom spokesman Sergey Novikov. Kiriyenko will also visit Kudankulam in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu to familiarize himself with construction of two Russia-supplied VVER-1000 reactors for two 1,000 MW nuclear power plants.
Russia considers India a major partner in the area of nuclear power and has expressed eagerness to build four more reactors for the Kudankulam site, when the member-nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) lift curbs against New Delhi, a step flowing out of the yet-to-be-approved (by the U.S. Congress) India-U.S. nuclear deal signed by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Russia recently supplied 60 tons of uranium pellets to India to fuel the two US-built boiling water units of Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS).
French Aircraft Carrier To Deploy Off Pakistan Coast
France will deploy the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier off the Pakistani coast between May 5 and May 25, so that its war planes can support military operations in Afghanistan, said Gen. Henri Bentegeat. He said Paris decided to deploy the extra force at this time because of an expected increase in attacks by insurgents in Afghanistan as warmer spring weather melts snow in high mountain passes the militants use. About 20 reconnaissance and combat aircraft will operate from the French carrier and will fly back and forth through Pakistani airspace into Afghanistan. The de Gaulle has twice before deployed to the region to take part in activities in Afghanistan, once in 2002, and again in 2003.
A four-member French Senate Commission for Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces, headed by Jean-Francois Poncet, a former French Foreign Minister, will be visiting Pakistan beginning April 7. Prior to the arrival of the French delegation, Islamabad has urged Paris to sign a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Pakistan. France just concluded a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with India during President Chirac's recent visit to New Delhi.
U.S.-India Nuke Deal Sputters Despite Rice's Efforts
On April 5, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and also later the same day, at the House International Relations Committee to push for the passage of the U.S.-India nuclear deal. The deal, in a nutshell, calls for lifting of all technology sanctions against India set since 1974, supply of reactor fuel to India by the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, and separation of India's nuclear facilities into civilian and military categories, putting civilian facilities under IAEA's supervision and monitoring. The bill was signed by both heads of states, but needs approval of the U.S. Congress.
The bill has created controversy in Congress, more so on the House side than in the Senate. Although there does not exist any anti-India lobby, the general argument put forward by lawmakers is that India, after having violated nuclear nonproliferation treaty( NPT) and developed its own nuclear arsenal, is being rewarded. This is a precedent which is tough to accept, and it also destroys the very structure of the three decades-old NPT, U.S. lawmakers claim. The Bush Administration, in response, denies that India is being rewarded, and, instead points out India's non-proliferation records and its energy requirements in the coming decades.
According to New Delhi, sensing the difficulties to passage of the bill, President Bush has apparently sent a memo to all his top departments urging them to strategize on how to get the bill through. Ostensibly, there have only been a few times in U.S. history, that a President has taken such action. It is evident that this is President Bush's last card to play on this bill.
Thaksin Steps Down as Thai Prime Minister
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stepped down April 5, turning power over to his closest deputy Chidchai Vanasathidya. After announcing April 4 that he would step down after the new Parliament was seated (within a month of the April 2 election), Thaksin went further and stepped down the following day. He is clearly not out of politics, and could well be back relatively soon. The new Parliament will be nearly 100% Thai Rak Thai (Thaksin's party) because of the opposition boycott of the election, which will likely force another election soon.
Chidchai is a former police general who is considered free of corruption, and has been a leading force for infrastructure development in the country, including the Kra Canal and projects to build transportation and oil pipelines to China.
Informal Six-Party Talks To Resume in Japan
Political and academic representatives of all parties to the six-party talks on Korea will meet informally in Japan the week of April 9-15, the Washington Post reported April 5. Sponsored by the University of California Institute of Global Conflict, the meeting, Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, will include U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill, the official negotiator at the formal talks, and Jong Thae Yang of the North Korean Foreign Ministry. They are not saying whether or not they will meet bilaterally. The formal talks have been on hold since November over U.S. sanctions on banks doing business with North Korea.