|Asia News Digest
India-Iran Sign 25-Year Liquified Natural Gas Deal
India and Iran have reached an agreement whereby India will buy 5 million tons of liquefied natural gas each year for the next 25 years. The LNG supply to India will begin in 2008-09. "We have reached an agreement. The deal will be signed on Jan. 10," Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told the Press Trust of India. As per the deal, Tehran will also give India 20% stake in the development of its biggest on-shore field, Yadavaran. The Chinese company Sinopec will be the operator of the Yadavaran field with 50% share and National Iranian Oil Company will have 30% share. Yadavaran oil field is expected to produce 300,000 barrels per day.
India Protests U.S. Weather Station at Trincomalee
The deep-sea port of Trincomalee is in the news again. For years the United States Pacific Command has been trying to set up a naval base at Trincomalee, located on Sri Lanka's eastern coast and hit hard by the tsunami, and considered the fifth-best deep-sea port in the world.
The United States did not succeed in setting up the base all these years because of Indian vigilance, and also due to the civil war in Sri Lanka. But with the rise of Chinese power, China's growing dependence on Persian Gulf oil, and Trincomalee's location on the heavily trafficked Persian Gulf-Pacific Ocean route, Washington never gave up its quest for Trincomalee.
New Delhi has conveyed to Colombo that the United States, while doing the noble work of helping the tsunami victims, is also involved in setting up a weather monitoring station. From the look of things, New Delhi does not consider this "kosher," apparently fearing that the U.S. will be monitoring more than just the weather. Washington, for its part, claims that, in order to set up a tsunami early warning system (ostensibly requested by Colombo), a weather monitoring station would be an absolute necessity.
Sri Lanka Needs $15.6 Billion To Build New Towns
In a report issued by Sri Lanka's Finance and Planning Ministry's Department of National Planning on Jan. 10, Colombo said it plans to build 12 large, 20 medium-sized, and 30 small towns to house those whose villages and homes were devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami. These would be built by the Urban Development Ministry and would include complexes to be built by the Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Ministry for fishing communities. The amount of $15.6 billion would be required to add on to the expenses that Colombo would incur to achieve the goal.
At the same time, Colombo has announced that it would make a formal request to the Paris Club, which plans to re-convene on Jan. 12, to allow it to delay debt payments to help pay for the reconstruction projects. Sri Lanka's annual debt payments are between $552 million and $600 million, said Sri Lanka's Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera. Most of the Sri Lankan borrowings were from the 19-member Paris Club.
New Threats Challenge Pakistan's Musharraf
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who is increasingly becoming a denizen of a bunker, now faces a new series of threats from the Baloch tribes. On Jan. 12, Pakistani authorities shut down a natural gas plant, and security forces took control of it, after angry tribesmen fired rockets, blowing up a gas pipeline, and triggering a battle that left eight people dead. The security forces took control of the gas plant in Sui, Balochistan, 350 km southeast of the Baloch capital, Quetta.
The situation in Balochistan has been deteriorating for months. To appease the U.S., Musharraf has given unlimited access of the province to the Americansspecial forces, Air Force personnel, and FBIto seize al-Qaeda and Taliban militants since 2002. Quetta is a major Taliban and al-Qaeda center.
The presence of Americans, and the privileges they enjoy, has upset the tribesmen. Earlier, they had bombed buses that carried the Chinese engineers who were involved in the development of Gwadar Port in southwest Baloch coast. It is likely that the tribesmen are supported by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and those in the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan borders whose houses have been destroyed by rockets and missiles used by the Pakistani as well as the American armed forces. Needless to say, the noose is now around Musharraf's sturdy neck. He will have to depend more and more on the Americans to survive.
Bomb Blast Injures Five in South Thailand
Five people, including two policemen, were injured when a home-made bomb exploded Jan. 11 in Yala province, in southern Thailand, The Nation reported Jan. 12. The two injured officers suffered shrapnel wounds, while two women and a man were also injured in the blast.
The explosion damaged nearby storefronts and left a crater in the ground where the bomb had exploded.
In Songkhla, a local policeman riding his motorbike to work was shot dead by an unknown motorcycle gunman.
Philippines Ceasefire Holds, Despite Violence
A two-year-old ceasefire between Muslim separatist members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippines government remains in force, despite clashes in which 21 people died Jan. 10, said Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister. Thirteen rebels and eight government soldiers were killed when members of MILF attacked an army outpost on the island of Mindanao. At a Jan. 10 press conference, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib said, "We don't consider [the attacks] as a breakdown of the ceasefire. It could be isolated incidents. As far as we are concerned, the ceasefire still remains." Najib is also Defense Minister of Malaysia, which is helping to monitor the ceasefire along with Libya and Brunei. Some 50 security officials from mainly Malaysia, Brunei and Libya are in southern Philippines as part of an international team monitoring the ceasefire.
Indonesia Welcomes Debt MoratoriaBut Without Conditions
Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla welcomed the offer of debt moratoria from the Paris Clubbut without conditions. Indonesia, which has pulled out from under the IMF program imposed on them after the 1997-98 speculative assault on the rupiah, is not willing to again go under the knife that nearly killed them. The last debt rescheduling by the Paris Club required a deal with the IMF.
Kalla said, "In principle, if we can get a debt moratorium, let's say for around 30 trillion rupiah (about $3.5 billion), that's not bad." Both Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirayuda and Minister of Development Planning Sri Mulyani Indrawati will go to the Paris Club meeting on Jan. 12. At this point, while the Group of Seven agreed to a debt freeze at the Paris Club last week, and possible cuts later, the conditions have not been spelled out.
The Financial Times of London reported that an Indonesian official who refused to be named said that Jakarta would request restructuring of their Paris Club debt, in addition to the offer of a moratorium, but would not accept another IMF program.
The division among the creditors at this point: In favor of a moratorium: Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the U.S.; for debt reduction: U.K., Belgium, and Italy; for no debt relief: Australia. Indonesia has about $4.5 billion in debt service on Paris Club debt (government to government debt) due in 2005.
Indonesia Confirms: No Strings on Debt Moratoria
An Indonesian government representative told EIR on Jan. 10 that Indonesia will not accept any debt moratorium or forgiveness which carries either IMF conditions or any other negative implications for the nation's creditworthiness. He said that their message to the U.S. was, that if the U.S. believed that granting a debt moratorium was in some way against the nature of the market, that Indonesia requested that they at least not obstruct the other members of the Paris Club who were making the offer without conditions. As to the private rating agencies, they will do whatever they want, the representative said, but Standard & Poors had indicated that they would not implement any downgrade based on a debt moratorium. He emphasized that this idea for debt relief came from the donor countries, not from Indonesia itself, and that it was a form of disaster relief, rather than a reflection of any inability to meet debt obligations, and thus it would not be accepted with any strings.
Thailand Wants Technical Assistance, Not Cash
Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart said Thailand does not want cash assistance to help with reconstruction following the tsunami, but rather, seeks technical assistance to rebuilt and rehabilitate the natural environment, The Nation reported Jan. 11.
Thailand wants the U.S. and other foreign donors to divert monetary assistance to other cash-strapped countries which were hit by the tidal wave, Surakiart said.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the refusal of cash donations was part of his international strategy to avoid reliance on foreign assistance.
"We work with the international community equally. We don't want to receive money and become a lackey," he told reporters.
"We do not totally reject foreign assistance, but we have a clear policy not to take in cash, but to be open to technical assistance. We welcome and thank all of the experts who come to help us," he said.
However, a Japanese group yesterday handed over $50 million to Deputy Interior Minister Sutham Saengprathum to help tsunami victims. Japan also sent a team to examine damage caused by the tidal wave in southern Thailand, and is willing to help install an early-warning system to prevent further damage, Sutham said.
Former Ambassador Lobbying for Indian Contract
Former U.S. Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, who is now working with the Barbour, Griffith and Rogers law firm, is using his Indian "connections" to get for the BGR the lobbying contract in Washington, D.C. India is now without a lobbying firm, having fired the Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, because of the lobbying firm's failure to lobby effectively in the U.S. Congress against the F-16 fighter-bomber sale to Pakistan. Akin Gump was brought on board by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kans), who had developed a close relationship with the former Indian Ambassador.
Blackwill, who was virtually the number two in the NSC looking after Iraq, had to leave abruptly last November, following a nasty incident at the Kuwait airport. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who never liked Blackwill, called for an inquiry, while National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, an alleged protégé of Blackwill, did not protect him.
Following his departure from the Bush Administration, Blackwill joined the BGR and was telling the Indians about his differences with the Administration over the sale of F-16s to Pakistan.