|Asia News Digest
Floods Compound Pakistan's Crises
Aug. 4 (EIRNS)The massive flood that has hit Pakistan's northwestern districts has now engulfed the entire nation. Large parts of Baluchistan, Sindh, and Punjab are under water. Landslides have cut off large portions of the Swat Valley and hampered efforts to help the 15 million people affected by Pakistan's worst flooding in decades. Many roads and bridges have been washed away, and heavy rains prevented relief helicopters from taking off. The UN estimates more than 1,600 people have been killed nationwide. Millions of acres of crops have been destroyed in Punjab province, the "rice bowl" of Pakistan, and across the northwest. Food prices have begun to soar and food shortages are affecting millions. The flooding has caused extensive damage to Pakistan's electrical infrastructure, forcing power plants to shut down. Pakistan already suffers from a crippling electricity crisis, with hours-long blackouts a daily occurrence.
The enormity of floods and the continuing economic crisis and violence have virtually crippled Islamabad, and there are reports that flood victims are expressing their anger at the absence of government-directed relief and help. Meanwhile, some terrorists groups, connected to the banned Lashkar-e-Toiba, have set up relief camps "to win the hearts and minds" of victims.
The port city of Karachi has been virtually shut down by violence. The killing of a leader of a prominent political party, the MQM, has triggered a wave of killings and counter-killings, leaving at least 92 dead in the past week. Karachi is not only the residence of 16 million people, it is the banking headquarters, commercial center, and the only port city of Pakistan.
Thai Government Rallies for War on Cambodia
Aug. 7 (EIRNS)Despite the state of emergency imposed on Thailand by its government, which forbids more than five people to gather for any political purpose, over 1,000 pro-government "yellow shirt" royalists gathered in a sports stadium to demand a confrontation with Cambodia (and essentially the entire world, which has long backed Cambodia's position) over a piece of turf on the border. Not only were they not disbanded by police, but Prime Minister Abhisit Vijjajiya attended the rally and told the cheering crowd, "We have no reason to exchange Thai territory."
Three hundred more yellow shirts rallied at the government office buildings, despite warnings that it would be illegal. Nothing was done to stop them.
British-born and -bred Prime Minister Abhisit went further to stir up revanchist rage against neighboring Cambodia by inviting the yellow shirt leaders to join him on TV for a "dialogue" on the territorial issuei.e., to rally the nation for a British-orchestrated war on Cambodiasabotaging cooperation on the Mekong River Project (Southeast Asia's TVA), and adding to the "Ring Around China" provocations across the region.
China Working on Vacuum Maglev; U.S. Expert Assists
Aug. 6 (EIRNS)China's National Power Traction Laboratory at Southwest Jiaotong University is developing a "vactrain," a magnetically levitated train that would run through an evacuated tube tunnel, which could theoretically run at speeds of 600-1,000 kilometers per hour, the Beijing Legal Times reported Aug. 2. Laboratory researcher Zhang Yaoping announced that the new technology could be put into operation in 10 years.
Zhang is a colleague of Daryl Oster, who holds the U.S. patent for Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) technology, the Shanghai News reported.
Oster moved to China in 2002 to join the laboratory, and the same year, Zhang; Shen Zhiyun, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; and maglev expert Wang Jiasu began their study of the technology.
Shen said that the U.S. proposal is for a highly evacuated tunnel, but the Chinese version would reduce air pressure, making the tunnel easier and cheaper to build.
The laboratory is now working on a prototype with an average speed of 500-600 km/hr, which would equal the Japanese experimental maglev's fastest test-run speed of 581 km/hr. A smaller model train, which can go 600-1,000 km/hr, will be introduced in two or three years.
The trains are able to run at such high speeds, equivalent to a passenger jet at cruising speed, because of the elimination of air friction. The train carriages will be pressurized so that passengers will not feel dizzy, Zhang said.
Conventional high-speed rail costs about 150-200 million yuan (US$22-29 million) per km to build, but the vactrain would cost 10-20 million yuan (about $3 million) more per kilometer, while allowing two to three times the speed, Shen Ziyun estimated.
U.S. Threatens Japan, South Korea over Iran Sanctions
Aug. 5 (EIRNS)U.S. State Department non-proliferation "enforcer" Robert Einhorn has been in Japan and South Korea to see to it that they follow the line on the American-imposed unilateral sanctions against Iran.
Einhorn is pushing the two Asian countries to "look at measures already adopted by the European Union," and adopt similar steps. The EU steps targeted investment in Iranian oil and gas industries, and limited financial transfers. Einhorn promises, implausibly, that such steps "would not interfere in any way with Japan's energy security and its imports of oil from Iran," nor would "the Japanese adoption of strong measures ... adversely affect the economy of Japan."
Daniel Glaser of the Treasury Department was a little more direct. While Japanese banks' financing of oil transactions with Iran had not been prohibited, he said, "there are tremendous risks out there dealing with Iranian banks." He noted that the EU had completely cut off certain Iranian banks from the European financial system.
Einhorn made the same proposals to South Korea, but also tied South Korean support against Iran to U.S. support against North Korea. However, South Korean ties to Iran are very strong. Korea experts warn that enthusiastic support for sanctions will cause more business losses than political gains. Iran is one of the biggest importers of South Korean goods in Southwest Asia, and some 20 Korean companies exported $4 billion worth of goods to Iran last year.
Some sources with knowledge of the meeting between Einhorn and South Korean Finance Ministry officials said the request included shutting down the local branch of Bank Mellat, the only Iranian bank operating in Korea.
Many Korean companies are already complaining of significant difficulty with financial settlements with Iran; if the government takes any measure against the bank, it could hurt Korean business in Iran in general, according to one expert.
The Korean government said that, though it agrees with the U.S. strengthening of sanctions on Iran, nothing has been determined as to how it will cooperate, including the fate of Bank Mellat in Korea.