From Volume 6, Issue 18 of EIR Online, Published May 1, 2007
Asia News Digest

India Wants To Build 'Missing Link' in Rail to Myanmar

April 27 (EIRNS)—According to the Indian Minister of State for Railways, R. Velu, in a written reply to the Indian Parliament said the Indian Railway has carried out a feasibility study for the construction of a new rail link between Jiribam-Moreh in India and Tamu-Kalay-Segyi in Myanmar. The "missing link" that would tie the Indian railroads with that of Myanmar is estimated to cost a little over $1 billion. It would provide substantial benefit for both India and Myanmar, and nations in Indochina. The Indian Minister added that the study is currently at the stage of bilateral consultation.

Earlier, speaking at a three-day conference organized by the International Union of Railways in New Delhi, India's Railway Board Chairman J.P. Batra said: "There have been discussions going on between the railways of the two countries [India and Myanmar] and things so far have been very smooth. Both sides have agreed to work towards forging this new relationship to complete the 'missing link' of 315 km. We are taking up construction of 100 km of the link on the Indian side, and the rest will also be completed in due course of time." Batra said once the "missing link" is built, it would greatly help cross-border travel and freight movement.

Malaysia Revives Rail Project with India's Ircon

April 22 (EIRNS)—Malaysian Transport Minister Chan Kong Choy was quoted by Bernama, Malaysia's national news agency, yesterday, saying that Ircon will participate in the multibillion-dollar rail project to double-track the rail line between Seremban and Gemas. The project had been put on hold in 2003 due to its high cost. The Seremban-Gemas rail line is part of Malaysia's largest-ever infrastructure project, which includes a 320-km electrified railway linking Ipoh and Padang Besar in northern Malaysia and a 310-km line between Seremban and Johor Bahru in the South. The project had been approved by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Malaysia has sent a letter of intent asking India to participate in the southern line.

NATO's Pulls Message to Afghans on Destroying Poppies

April 25 (EIRNS)—NATO has pulled its radio-message telling Afghan farmers that the troops will not destroy their opium fields, following complaints from the Afghan government officials, said AP.

The advertisement was paid for by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) and aired on radio stations in Helmand province—the largest poppy-growing area in Afghanistan.

"This was an error by ISAF," said Zalmay Afzali, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry for Counternarcotics. "We request from ISAF to avoid these kinds of errors in the future because it can create a hell of a problem for the counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan."

The ad is yet another example of the NATO and Afghan forces' unwillingness to confront the Afghan opium warlords, who are a parallel power, constantly challenging the Karzai regime in Kabul. Nearly 2 million Afghan farmers grow poppy, and the financial benefit of the illicit product is reaped by these warlords. The warlords, besides paying off law enforcement, also pay the Afghan insurgents handsomely to keep the anti-U.S. and anti-ISAF campaign going.

Meanwhile, on April 27, Financial Times, on its front page, issued a head-on attack on the Afghan government in Kabul for its inability to eradicate opium in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The FT claims the eradication is not happening because Afghan government officials and police are on the take. However, the London paper failed to mention NATO's indirect role in promoting opium.

India Moves To Rev Up Space Science

April 27 (EIRNS)—Having announced unmanned Moon and Mars missions within the next five years, Indian space research authorities are now gearing up to develop an adequate number of personnel to carry out future programs. India has also launched, for the first time, a commercial Italian satellite this week to join the group of other five nations who have developed this capability. India has already been contracted for launching of two more commercial satellites.

In light of this broadened space program, Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi approved Rs 400 million for setting up of an Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST). The IIST will be set up along the lines of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs)—India's top engineering colleges—and will provide high-quality undergraduate and post-graduate education in space technology and science.

Das Munshi said the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is experiencing a severe shortage of qualified graduate and post-graduate scientists and researchers, and that the shortage has already affected the space program in taking up the challenges of research and development in the space area.

The first of the IISTs will come up within 24 months and will be located close to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre and Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre in Thruvananthapuram, located in the southwestern coast of the state of Kerala. The institute will have 150-200 students each year and the ISRO will bear all costs by providing the students with scholarships and assistantships. All high-performing students will be absorbed in the ISRO.

China's Economy and National Defense Are at Risk

April 22 (EIRNS)—According to Xinhua daily, Yu Chengting, vice chairman of the China Machine Tool and Tool Builders Association, said China's economy and national defense are at risk due to dependence on imported machine-tool technology. China is the biggest consumer and importer of machine tools in the world. Xinhua news agency quotes Yu Chengting warning that about 90% of the digital-control systems currently used by Chinese manufacturers for machine tools, are being produced by foreign companies. By 2010, China's engineering-manufacturing sector will need more than 100,000 machine tools, and 40% of those must be medium- and high-quality, he said. Digital control systems account for 30% to 50% of a machine tool's cost.

China's machine-tool-building industry has grown by 20% in output and sales revenue over the past six years. "If manufacturers continue to rely heavily on key component imports, the country's economy and national defense will be stunted," Yu said. China must intensify R&D on domestic machine-tool production, especially of digital-control systems. This process is already underway, he said. In 2006, imported digital-control machine tools were 10% of all those sold in China, down from 40% in 2005. That year, China's machine-tool market was dominated by Japanese and German companies which together sold 19,000 medium- and high-quality machine tools to China.

A Potential Pakistan-China Rail Link

April 23 (EIRNS)—According to Xinhua news daily, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, in Beijing April 18, said that studies for a Pakistan-China rail line will be completed this year. And on April 21, Pakistani Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, during meetings with visiting China National Machinery Corporation vice president Zhao Jun in Islamabad, made similar remarks. This railway would be an engineering feat to rival the Chinese railroad to Tibet: Under feasibility study is a possible 750-km rail link between the city of Havelian, at the westernmost end of the famous Karakoram highway, and 4,693-meter-high Khunjerab Pass at the Pakistan-China border. This pass is the highest paved international connection in the world.

At the Communist Party School in Beijing, Shaukat Aziz said that the Pakistan-China partnership goes back to the "fabled Silk Route," and China's classic Journey to the West. "Pakistan is fast transforming into an economic, energy, trade, and communications hub, linking the neighboring regions of South Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia. Pakistan provides the shortest access to the sea for Western China. Our friendship highway over the Karakoram and road and rail networks to our deep-water ports at the Arabian Sea are fast becoming a conduit for trade and energy transactions. The Karakoram Highway is being upgraded. Feasibility studies are being undertaken to establish Pakistan-China rail links."

On April 21, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that work on the Quetta-Kandhar (Pakistan-Afghanistan) and Taftan-Zahidan (Pakistan-Iran) sections of Pakistan's new rail links to the rest of the world is already underway. Pakistani President Musharraf wants the country to become the "economic bridge" between Asia and Europe via sea, road, and rail networks, Pakistan's News Network International reported April 22. The minister invited Chinese Railways to invest in Pakistan, to upgrade its signalling systems and build high-speed rail lines. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Pakistan wants to build a high-speed rail link between Lahore and Rawalpindi, which he said would be the first ever project in South Asia.

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