|Asia News Digest
China, Russia Negotiate Nuclear Agreement
May 23 (EIRNS)China and Russia today are negotiating a $1 billion agreement to develop a uranium enrichment facility in China, Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko announced today in Beijing. Kiriyenko is part of the delegation led by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, for a two-day visit to China beginning today. "We have completed negotiations on construction of a uranium enrichment factory," Kiriyenko said. "I will not cite the worth of the total contract, but it is well over $1 billion. This is already the fourth round in negotiations to build the uranium enrichment plant." Kiryenko said that the agreement includes deliveries of Russian uranium over the next ten years. He added that the discussions demonstrate "the strengthening of Russian companies' presence on the Chinese market."
Brits Not Happy with U.S. Stance Toward Myanmar
May 23 (EIRNS)U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey yesterday resisted media hysteria over Myanmar (e.g., "How long can the international community watch millions more die there?"), insisting that the U.S. intent is to provide as much aid as possible, that the aid is in fact getting through, and that "the fundamental point here is not to prove a political point.... This is a humanitarian disaster, and one that requires us and others to provide support, as allowed."
This calm stance has made the British very unhappy. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is showing how angry the Brits are about losing their campaign to invade Myanmar under the guise of Tony Blair's "responsibility to protect" doctrine. Asked about the donors' conference to be held in Yangon on May 25, Miliband whined: "We are not going to allow this to become a ramp by which the regime resuscitates or reinforces its political position."
Myanmar's top general, Than Shwe, after meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for two hours yesterday, announced that he will allow foreign aid workers into the country. Although press reports claim that this is an unrestricted offer, the fact is that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), at its Singapore meeting this week, accepted Myanmar's request to coordinate all foreign aid and reconstruction funds. ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuan said that a nine-member core groupthree each from Myanmar, ASEAN, and the UNhas been set up to run the "coalition of mercy."
Both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are considering ending their ban on loans to Myanmar. There have been no World Bank loans since 1987.
Myanmar Seeks Membership in SAARC
May 20 (EIRNS)Myanmar, a member of the ASEAN group of countries, is reportedly seeking membership in the South Asian Association of Regional Countries (SAARC), which consists of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, and the Maldives. Bangladeshi sources said that Myanmar might become the ninth member of the bloc, as India has already extended support to Myanmar's inclusion.
SAARC officials said that Myanmar's proposal might come up for discussion at the group's standing committee meeting before the next summit meeting, in Sri Lanka starting on July 27, The New Age, a Bangladeshi news daily, reported.
"The country may be included in the regional bloc as a member as a 'key actor' of the grouping extended its support for the move," the daily reported, in an oblique reference to India.
Myanmar's decision is perfectly in step with the kind of agricultural infrastructure development that the region needs. Myanmar is the gateway from the Indian subcontinent and southern China into Southeast Asia. Moreover, Myanmar's agro-environment is in sync with that of Bangladesh, the southern part of India's northeast, southern China, and the neighboring nations in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar, Thailand To Develop Andaman Deep Sea Port
May 21 (EIRNS)Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama and his Myanmar counterpart Nyan Win have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop Myanmar's Tavoy (Dawei) deep sea port, close to the northern tip of the Malaysian peninsula. Tavoy is located on southwestern Myanmar on the Andaman Sea. The signing took place on May 20, on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers of the ASEAN member-nations, in Singapore. The meeting has been convened to arrange for the ASEAN member-nations to distribute aid to the cyclone-hit population of Myanmar. Both Thailand and Myanmar are members of the ASEAN.
Upon completion, the port will facilitate goods transportation from Europe and Southwest Asia to Thailand's Laem Chabang port, and cargoes could be easily transported to Laos and southern China from there, Noppadon said. Transportation could be reduced by more than 10 days, according to the Thai foreign minister.
The project fits very well with the West-East Economic Corridor, the Thai foreign minister explained, adding that China is also interested in building a dual rail track, with trains travelling at a speed of nearly 200 kilometers per hour. The site construction survey is expected to be completed by the end of this year, and construction is expected to take about six years, they added.
India Calls Latest WTO Text 'Totally Unacceptable'
May 20 (EIRNS)In a move which reflects the fact that India has joined with Russia and China in resisting the British, India today said that the new World Trade Organization text, ignoring livelihood concerns in agriculture, is "totally unacceptable" and that the country will thwart rich nations' efforts to "divide and rule" (the quintessential imperial method) over developing countries on the issue of tariff cuts on industrial products under the Doha Round trade talks.
India is upset that the new proposals, released by the chairman of the negotiating group on agriculture, Crawford Falconer, have set a limit on safeguards to protect its small and marginal farmers.
India's Commerce Secretary G.K. Pillai said he felt let down, as the revised texts on agriculture and industrial goods, released on May 19, will not allow the developing countries to shield their farmers and industries from cheap imports. If the new text is adopted, India will be allowed to designate fewer Special Products that it can protect from unrestricted imports from agro-exporting countries like the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
Logistics Network in Thailand Proposed on Kra Canal Route
May 21 (EIRNS)A canal across the Kra Isthmus in southern Thailand, connecting the eastern Gulf of Thailand and the western Andaman Sea, and more generally eastern and western Asia by sea, cutting hundreds of miles off the current route via the Strait of Malacca, has been a dream for at least a century. EIR co-sponsored two conferences in Bangkok in the early 1980s on the Kra Canal, with supporters from all over Asia participating.
Beyond the great cost of such a project, many reasons have been put forward to delay or kill it. One argument has been that the canal would increase animosity between the Buddhist North of Thailand and the Muslim South.
The Thai Cabinet yesterday endorsed a Transport Ministry proposal to conduct a joint feasibility study with Dubai World, into the development of a logistics network in southern Thailand along the Kra Canal route. The utilization of a company from Muslim Dubai should help reduce political tensions in the south of Thailand.
Afghanistan: 'A Different Picture in Different Places'
May 20 (EIRNS)Afghanistan has turned out to be an elephant which NATO, like six blind men, is still trying to identify. Last Fall, groups of Taliban fighters swarmed into every village in the Khakrez district of Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. American forces arrived to sweep them out in January, but by April, the Taliban were back, surrounding the district center in a show of force that froze villagers in their tracks. Then the insurgents melted away again.
The question before NATO is how much longer it will take in crucial provinces, like Kandahar, to lock in tentative gains and bring real security and strong government. An equally important question is whether that can be done before the war wears down relations within the U.S.-led alliance and with the Afghan people.
"No one claims this is going to be a year of full stabilization or even declining violence, let alone an end to the conflict," said Christopher Alexander, deputy special representative for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He added, "There is a different picture in different places," which makes it extremely difficult to gauge progress in the war and which has helped generate diverging views of the conflict among Afghan officials and their American and NATO allies."