From Volume 36, Issue 44 of EIR Online, Published Nov. 13, 2009
Asia News Digest

Chinese ASEAN Loan Commitment To Fund Thai Rail

Nov. 2 (EIRNS)—Just days after China made firm its commitment to fund $25 billion of South East Asian development at the ASEAN + 3 conference in Thailand, Bangkok's Transport Ministry announced an ambitious three-phase plan to upgrade and expand the nation's rail network.

Under the first phase, valued at over $1 billion, 21 new locomotives would be brought in to replace those 40 years or older; about 1,500 miles of track would be improved, so trains would run at higher speeds; wooden ties on 800 miles of track would be replaced with concrete ties; and more modern signalling systems would be installed at 230 train stations. China was offering a low-interest loan for the whole project, on condition that the Thai government purchase Chinese-made locomotives.

In the second phase, more than 1,875 miles of dual track would be laid at a cost of over $10 billion. The Thai Transport Ministry is sounding out other loan sources for the government to consider.

In the last phase, the Ministry plans to invest as much as $20 billion and introduce high-speed trains on four routes: Bangkok-Chiang Mai, Bangkok-Nong Khai, Bangkok-Chanthaburi, and Bangkok-Padang Besar.

There are tremendous sums sloshing around Asia looking for the highest return, but the Chinese are today the only real source for long-term development funding.

South Korea, Russia Expand Economic Ties

Nov. 6 (EIRNS)—The Russia State Duma today approved an agreement that was signed with the government of South Korea last year, to simplify the procedure of issuing visas for visits between the two countries. Itar-Tass news agency relates that before 1991, when diplomatic relations were established, trade was conducted through third party nations.

Now, with the U.S. economy on the skids, South Korea is seeking to broaden its trade relations.

Specifically mentioned are the natural resources Seoul increasingly needs for its economic development—oil, metal, timber, and fish—which are "abundant in the [former] Soviet Far East." The agreement, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov stated, is designed to create "maximally favorable conditions for the intensification of exchanges."

Itar-Tass mentions the decades-long U.S. fear of high-technology transfers from the Soviet Union to South Korea. But in fact, it was the withholding of American technology from North Korea, due to the concern about missile "proliferation," that led to U.S. refusal of space cooperation. As a result, the Russians built the first stage of South Korea's rocket, and flew South Korea's first astronaut.

Cambodia's Hun Sen Appoints Thaksin; Challenges Thai Royalist Government

Nov. 4 (EIRNS)—Cambodian television announced today that deposed prime minister of Thailand "Thaksin has already been appointed by royal decree ... as personal advisor to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the advisor to the Cambodian government in charge of economy."

Hun Sen had announced at the ASEAN Summit last week in Thailand, that he had invited Thaksin Shinawatra to live in Cambodia as an economic advisor, and that he would ignore extradition attempts form Bangkok.

Knowing what can be expected from the British-sponsored Thai government, whose Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya, had openly attempted to provoke a war with Cambodia over a territorial dispute, the Cambodian broadcast made its support of Thaksin very clear: "Allowing Thaksin to stay in Cambodia is virtuous behaviour ... good friends need to help each other in difficult circumstances." The report called the corruption charges against Thaksin "politically motivated," and vowed not to extradite him if he "decides to stay in Cambodia or travels in and out of Cambodia in order to fulfill his duties."

It is certain that neither the Thai king nor Prince Philip are smiling today.

A full report on this "black eye to the British in Asia" appeared in the Nov. 6 issue of EIR.

Bridges Are Closed in Japan While Government Cuts Infrastructure

Nov. 5 (EIRNS)—Local governments in Japan closed 121 road bridges that were at risk of collapse from steel corrosion or concrete degradation as of April 2008, an Infrastructure Ministry survey has found. They also banned the passage of large vehicles with heavy loads, weighing 25 tons or more, on a further 680 bridges.

The situation is likely more serious than it seems from those figures. Transportation Ministry officials say that, as of March this year, nearly 40% of the cities, towns, and villages which responded to the survey had not even started the emergency checkups needed to compile repair plans. Many cash-strapped municipalities could not afford proper inspections, and have few engineers capable of performing and overseeing the work.

The ministry conducted the survey following the collapse of a highway bridge in Minnesota, U.S.A., in August 2007. Road bridges are built to last an estimated 50 years; a large number of road bridges in Japan were built during the high-growth era of the 1960s and thus are reaching the end of their design lifespan, without substantial repair or replacement.

Experts have also voiced concerns about deterioration at aging dams, airports, and seaports, according to the Asahi Shimbun) newspaper.

The current DPJ-led government is demanding budget cuts to "wasteful" infrastructure projects.

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