|Asia News Digest
New Year's Eve Bombings in Bangkok Remain Unsolved
Terrorist bombs struck Bangkok on New Year's Eve just before and just after midnight. Six bombs, some of them hand grenades, exploded in markets and at police stations, killing at least three and injuring dozens. The early bombings caused the mayor of Bangkok to cancel the huge public "countdown" events held every New Year's Eve, calling on people to stay at home. The post-midnight bombs hit foreign tourist areas, injuring at least two foreigners. These are the first terrorist attacks in Bangkok in recent times.
The New Year's bombings in Bangkok remain unsolvedbut it must be considered that the government had just made the international financial institutions very angry: The Thai Central Bank and Treasury slapped currency controls on most incoming hot money, requiring speculative funds to deposit 30% in a bank without interest for one year. The Bank of Thailand knew that the response would be a run on the baht and on the stock market, but they considered that a tolerable problem compared to the speculative flood which was destablilizing their economy and thus their sovereignty. However, they were clearly not prepared for a terrorist attack on Bangkok, which has seen no terrorism in recent history.
The bombings have provoked a serious financial crisis, with capital flight dragging the stock market down by 8% this week. (The Financial Times boasted that the Thai equity market was "already battered by a botched pre-Christmas attempt to curb the appreciation of the baht through capital controls." In fact, the controls had stopped the manipulation of the baht, and the market had stabilized before the bombings.)
Gen. Surayud Chulanont, the interim Prime Minister appointed by the junta which seized power in September, has blamed the bombs on associates of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, in exile in China, denies any role, and suggests the Islamic insurgents in the South may have done it. The Defense Minister reported that the bombers were in uniform and may have been a rogue military or police faction. But no one within Thailand, as yet, has considered a "third force" responding to the Thai display of financial sovereignty.
China Presses Iran To Resume Six-Party Talks
Despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's labelling of UN Security Council Resolution 1737, which imposed sanctions on Iran, as "trash paper," Chinese President Hu Jintao, during his meeting with the visiting Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani on Jan. 5, said that he expects Iran to offer a "serious response" to the Resolution 1737.
"The UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1737, which reflects the shared concerns of the international community over the Iranian nuclear issue, and we hope Iran will make a serious response to the resolution," said President Hu.
Before meeting with Hu, Larijani met with the Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxun. Tang told Larijani that Tehran's defiance was counterproductive. "China has always maintained that dialogue and negotiations are the best way to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue."
Larijani told Tang that Iran will honor the principles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which China considers an important tool for reducing worldwide nuclear proliferation, and will continue to seek a just and reasonable solution to the Iranian nuclear issue through talks.
South Korea Plans Space Rocket in 2008
South Korea plans to launch its first space rockets next year, officials said on Jan. 2. A space center in South Korea's south coast is almost 90% complete. The rocket, named the Korea Space Launch Vehicle, will put small satellites, weighing up to 220 pounds, into orbit for scientific research and atmospheric surveys. "This means that we will have our own satellites and launch vehicles at the same time, laying the foundation for further space development," said Hwang Pan-Sik, a deputy director of the Ministry of Science and Technology,
The "further space development" to which Hwang referred, could very well be an independent missile defense system, according to AFP. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCC) of South Korea called for development of the program in his command book following North Korea's nuclear test on Oct. 9, 2006, a JCC official told AFP.
The missile defense system will be designed to intercept low-altitude missiles, Yonhap news agency subsequently said. As part of its independent system, South Korea has announced plans to buy 48 second-hand Patriot missiles from Germany from 2008 on. It also has sought ground control equipment for the Patriots from the United States.
Protests in Philippines Over Handling of Rape Case
Protesters in Manila called Presidents George Bush and Gloria Arroyo "the king and queen of rapists," in response to Arroyo's decision to ignore the Philippines courts and turn a U.S. soldier convicted of rape over to the U.S. Embassy; but the reference is not only to the woman who was raped, but also to the rape of the Philippine Constitution. The Philippines Inquirer, the establishment newspaper, wrote Jan. 1 that what is at stake is not only the future of U.S.-Philippine relations, "but the future of the rule of law. We can survive as a nation without the help of the Americans, if it comes to that. But we cannot survive without the rule of law. President Arroyo's decision to transfer custody of Lance Corporal Daniel Smithwithout clearance from the Court of Appeals, and in direct defiance of a standing order of Makati Regional Trial Court Judge Benjamin Pozonwas an act of calculated political expediency; it was meant to please the Americans. But her hospitality did not only sacrifice national dignity at the altar of convenience; it also broke the law."
Exhibiting the "unitary executive" mentality which the Philippines regime has learned from the Bush-Cheney Administration, Presidential legal advisor Sergio Apostol said of Smith's midnight transfer to the U.S. Embassy: "We are the jailer, so we can decide where to detain a convicted criminal," adding that if the courts don't like it, they can "cite the executive department for contempt."
Concludes the Inquirer: "This is not the rule of law, but rapist's justice."
FTAs Will Cost 100,000 South Korean Jobs
South Korea's Commerce Ministry warned that the free-trade agreements (FTAs) under negotiation will cost 100,000 South Korean jobs, the Korean Times reported Jan. 1. Free trade agreements with the United States, Japan, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will put over 100,000 Koreans out of work in the next 10 years, according to the South Korea Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Energy (MOCIE). In a report submitted to the National Assembly on 1/1, the ministry said that the FTAs will put pressure on some 13,000 firms to rationalize their workforce. This is the first time for any government organization to come up with specific data on the effects that FTAs will have on the economy in general.
As with most Democrats in the U.S., these ugly truths don't translate into efforts to scrap the FTA's, but only to calls for government support for those firms that get hit the hardest.
China's Migrant Workers Impoverished, Unpaid
China now has 115 million migrant workers, 6.7 million in 2006 alone, China's Ministry of Agriculture, according to Xinhua Dec. 31. Many of these impoverished workers are not being paid for their work, despite efforts of central and local government to ensure wages are paid. This is a big problem at this time, when the millions of workers want to return to their home villages for the New Year's festival.
One young rural worker was beaten to death when he tried to collect some 40,000 yuan (over US$5,000) in unpaid wages for a group of migrant construction workers. "Factories and construction companies withholding workers' pay has been a persistent problem in China in the last 10 years," Xinhua reported. In the impoverished interior province of Gansu, an investigation in recent months of 6,000 enterprises and construction firms, found that some 980 employers were found to owe 130 million yuan (US$16.6 million) to 130,000 migrant workers. In the eastern province of Jiangxi, some 518 companies had defaulted on 62,000 migrants' wages of 24 million yuan (US$3.1 million). This year, according to union organizations, they had to help 2.8 million migrant workers claim 1.3 billion yuan (US$162.5 million) in unpaid wages.
The situation has led to protests and demonstrations by unpaid migrant workers. One group of 87 construction workers has been demonstrating in Beijing in front of a construction company that has withheld 1.4 million yuan (US$180,000) of their wages.
Contingencies for Chinese and North Korean Aggression Planned
Kyodo and Asahi news agency report Jan. 4 that unnamed Japanese and U.S. officials will be formalizing plans to develop a military approach to deal with a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan, in the event of the latter declaring independence; response to a potential North Korean missile attack on Japan will also be discussed. It must be noted that in order for Japan to conduct such military adventures, its pacifist constitution will have to be changed, and this is a top priority for the Abe Shinzo government.
China has responded predictably on the Taiwan issue, stating, "Taiwan is an inseparable part of China. Any arrangement or consideration should respect and abide by the principle of one China."