|Asia News Digest
China: India Should Play More International Role
China, which was once dismissive of India's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, has not fully come around to support India's bid, but it has made a calibrated shift in its position, according to the Indian daily The Hindu Jan. 26. Beijing, during its two-day strategic talks with New Delhi this week, indicated that it would support India's effort to play a greater role in world affairs.
The implications of this nuanced policy statement will only be clear over time. China indicated that it also supports UN reforms, and India should play a role in the reform process. Meanwhile, a high-level panel set up by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in their report, "Threats, Challenges and Change," submitted last month, recommended that the role a country played in ensuring global stability could be one of the main factors to be considered while making a judgment on its eligibility for a permanent Security Council seat.
China, India Share 'Broad Convergence of Views'
At the first meeting of their new strategic dialogue Jan. 24, India and China had a "broad convergence of views," in their discussions on Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan, non-proliferation, the threat of terrorism, and the United Nations, which includes a broader role for India at the United Nations.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan called it a "successful dialogue" and said China hopes that both sides would make "new moves" to find an early solution to the boundary issue, "so that bilateral relations will witness faster development on a new basis." China also asked India when it would appoint a Special Representative for the border talks, following the death of former Special Representative and National Security Advisor J.N. Dixit.
Both sides supported the trend towards "multipolarity," an Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman said. The two sides agreed that the threat of terrorism "could not be tackled unilaterally."
The Chinese representative, Wu Dawei, who is also China's leading negotiator for the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue, also met Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh.
Jakarta Officials To Meet with Aceh Rebels in Finland
A high-powered government team from Jakarta, Indonesia will meet with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) leaders in Finald, Reuters reported Jan. 25. Coming off the ceasefire established during the tsunami disaster relief effort (a ceasefire that has been only partially successfulsome reports say that dozens have died in fighting this month), Indonesia's Chief Security Minister Widodo Adi Sutjipto and Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda will lead a delegation to meet, under the auspices of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari's Crisis Management Initiative, with the leadership of GAM, which is living in exile in Sweden. Given the positions of those in the Indonesian delegation, some progress is clearly expected, despite the GAM's continued insistence on independence, which is unacceptable to Jakarta and to most Achenese.
Afghan Opium Production Expected To Fall This Year
After massive opium crops in 2003 and 2004, each exceeding 5,000 tons, Afghanistan's opium production in 2005 may decline significantly, according to officials. Although the harvesting in the southern and eastern part of Afghanistan doesn't begin until April, Kabul officials claim a significant drop in opium production, in the order of 30-70% in some areas, is expected, due much smaller acreage under poppy cultivation this year.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who had declared "jihad" against opium production, has claimed credit already. The fact remains that Karzai neither possesses the authority to prevent poppy planting, nor has he done anything of substance which could be cited as a reason for such a sharp drop.
Observers point out that the smaller crop is due to drought, disease, and a crash in opium prices in Europe, where 95% of Afghan opium is sold. A similar situation had developed in 2001, during the Taliban regime after two years of record-breaking opium production. In 2001, opium production had fallen by 75%. The Taliban had claimed credit, but the analysts pointed out the massive production of opium in 1999 and 2000 had collapsed prices by 2001.
Opium production rose sharply again during the American occupation of Afghanistan during 2002-2004.
Malaysia: U.S. Will Stand Alone if Iran Attacked
Malaysia, which currently chairs the world's biggest grouping of Muslim countries, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and which, simultaneously, heads the Non-Aligned Movement, has warned that the U.S. will stand alone in the world if it attacks Iran, AFP reported Jan. 26.
The world community, including allies of the United States, is opposed to any such action by the superpower, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said on his return from a trip to Paris Jan. 25.
"Europe does not agree, the United States' close ally Britain does not agree, and I believe no one else will agree," said Abdullah, who chairs the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference. "The Islamic world will definitely not agree to an attack on Iran," he said. "Talks should instead be held and made a priority, rather than military action."
Bush Inaugural 'Suicide Jump Into Dangerous World'
An editorial in the leading establishment newspaper in the Philippines blasted President Bush's Inaugural address as a "suicide jump into a dangerous world." The Philippines Inquirer editorial reads in part: "What has U.S. President George W. Bush's extraordinary second Inaugural address wrought? Mainly, it has pushed Americans right to the brink. The leader of the world's only superpower has asked his fellow citizens to take a leap of faith with him, but in truth, it is a suicide jump into a dangerous world ... [which] seeks to spread the gospel of freedom throughout the world in a way guaranteed to subvert it."
The Inquirer says that Bush has "turned freedom into an American religion. Using evangelical language, Bush announced the new mission. 'America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof.' It is an echo of Leviticus 25:10, when the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob instructed Moses: 'Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.'"
The editorial concludes: "The new Bush doctrine is Manifest Destiny all over again, but this time in theological terms.... By assuming his new role as high priest and prophet of freedom, Bush has not made the world safe for democracy. On the contrary, he has made it more difficult for democracy to take root elsewhere in the world."
U.S. Military To Withdraw from Aceh Relief Effort
The U.S. military will immediately begin to withdraw forces from the relief operations in Aceh, announced U.S. Pacific Commander Adm. Thomas Fargo on Jan. 20. Admiral Fargo said the mission has moved from the "immediate relief phase ... toward rehabilitation and reconstruction." He said that all 15,000 troops would be out within 60 daysthus meeting the time frame requested by the Indonesian government, which has expressed its gratitude for the U.S. help, but also concern for national sovereignty, with foreign troops on its soil.
Rob Holden, who heads a health-assessment team from both the UN and the U.S. military, said: "What we're trying to do is civilianize the humanitarian operations."
India Reaches 'Significant Milestone' in Nuclear Power
India's first 540 MW heavy-water reactor is ready for fuel loading, said S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. Calling it "a significant milestone" in India's nuclear-power program, Jain pointed out that this is the first time India has manufactured a 540 MW reactor. India's earlier reactors were capable of generating only 235 MW of electrical power. The new one in Tarapur is TAPP-4. TAPP-3, also of 540 MW capacity, will be commissioned by the end of this year, after the TAPP-4 is commissioned. In Tarapur, two boiling-water reactors, each 220 MW, were commissioned by General Electric in 1968, and are still in operation.
The pressurized heavy-water reactors (PHWRs) in India use natural uranium as fuel and heavy water as coolant and moderator. The natural uranium fuel bundles are fabricated by the Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad. Several plants in the country manufacture heavy water.
New U.S. Ambassador to Japan Appointed
President George Bush has named Tom Schieffer as the new ambassador to Japan. Schieffer was a member of the investment group that bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1989, and was president of the baseball team while Bush was a part-owner. He was also a Dallas lawyer with a portfolio centered on oil and gas companies.
A Department of State biography also points out that Schieffer is the brother of TV reporter Bob Schieffer, and while still in college at the University of Texas, worked in the offices of State Sen. Don Kennard and former Gov. John Connally. Schieffer was elected to the Texas state house at age 25 and served three terms. He also serves on the advisory board of the JP Morgan Chase Bank in Fort Worth, and Drew Industries of White Plains, N.Y.
Schieffer replaces incumbent Ambassador Howard Baker.