|Asia News Digest
Violence Growing Rapidly in Afghanistan
Two rockets hit the U.S. Air Force base in Kandahar in the early morning hours of July 13, injuring two Canadian soldiers and many Afghans. The U.S. military claims the helicopters based there were not hit. A Taliban spokesman has claimed responsibility and asserted that the number of casualties is much higher than reported. Meanwhile, U.S. military spokesman said the U.S. troops are engaged in yet another battle with anti-American and anti-Kabul forces and have killed 17 "Taliban." In addition, in Helmand, pro-Karzai Mullah Salih Mohammad was shot by militants as he was walking to the mosque. Salih Mohammad was said to be the most senior cleric in the province and a member of the national Ulema Council.
U.S.-led troops have also begun a manhunt to capture four detainees who escaped the U.S.-run Bagram Air Base near Kabul. Helicopters are helping ground forces to capture the four escapees, who have been identified as al-Qaeda operators and "dangerous enemy combatants."
What surprised the U.S. military is that the Bagram Air Base is mined on all sides except its entry. The mining was intense, and it is a surprise that the four could escape without blowing themselves up. What is evident, then, is that somebody "opened" the front door to these "dangerous enemy combatants."
Condoleezza Rice Continues To Enrage ASEAN Allies
In addition to statements reported July 11 by Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's absence from the late-July two-day ASEAN summit "will be criticized as a sign of disinterest in the region," and "will not resonate well," Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong, who is in Washington to sign a strategic partnership agreement with the U.S., said that Rice's absence from the ASEAN summit might mean the United States will miss an opportunity to strengthen its ties to the region at a time when China is strengthening ties with Southeast Asia. Lee said: "We are disappointed, of course."
Since Rice made a point early in her recent trip to Asia that her priority was the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, and also to obstruct Myanmar's assumption of the ASEAN chairmanship in 2006, when she was asked point blank at a press conference if Myanmar's pending chairmanship of ASEAN was the problem, Rice refused to give a direct answer.
Thailand Approves Arms Purchase for War in South
According to wire reports July 13, Thailand has approved $66.3 million in arms purchases to wage "guerrilla war" in its southern provinces. Thailand plans to buy seven U.S.-made attack helicopters and more than 24,000 guns to fight a "guerrilla" war in its Muslim-majority south, according to government documents and officials, even though no one has yet put forward a plausible explanation for the conflict, which has raged since January 2004, with 800 killed and 1,200 wounded.
The Thai Cabinet has approved a three-year special defense budget of 2.8 billion baht ($66.3 million) for weaponry, according to a classified Cabinet document which was obtained by AFP.
Six procurement projects were approved, including one allowing the Defense Ministry to acquire seven "attack helicopters" from the U.S. at a cost of 300 million baht ($7.1 million) for their repair, upgrade, and transport.
The projects also allow the purchase of 24,439 assault rifles and machine guns to replace obsolete weaponry used by some of the security forces in southern Thailand, the document said.
The violence in the South is escalating, with the latest being an attack on a power station on July 14. The knocking out of the station was followed by attacks on a hotel, stores, and the railway station. Over 800 people have been killed in this area by the insurgency this year.
Teachers a Special Target in Thailand's South
The Teachers Federation of Thailand's southernmost provinces, Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat, have revealed that since Jan. 4, 2004, the official date of the onset of the separatist unrest, which began with a series of school arson attacks and the theft of army weapons from a military depot, 48 schools have been torched and 24 educational personnel killed, including five school directors and 14 teachers. The 25th teacher killed in these three southern provinces was reported recently.
With security tension escalating, 3,600 teachers in the three border provinces have requested transfers out of the area within seven days. In total, there are 1,115 schools, 14,875 teachers, and 421,893 students in the three provinces.
'Cheap' U.S. Retailers Shifting From China to India
Wal-Mart, Gap, Inc., and other U.S. flea market "retailers" are shifting from China to India to buy cheap clothes and other goods, China Daily of July 12 quoted a Bloomberg wire service as reporting. Wal-Mart is increasing purchases from India by 30%, up to U.S.$1.5 billion in 2005. These flea-marketers, which together bought some U.S.$65 billion worth of cheap goods from China in 2004, are now inflicting themselves on India, due to reported concern that China will upvalue its currency, the RMB, against the dollar, a move Wal-Mart and other such firms oppose. By itself, Wal-Mart bought U.S.$18 billion in goods from China in 2004, up from U.S.$10 billion in 2001.
Taiwan's New Party Delegation Ends Trip to Mainland
Taiwan's New Party delegation has just finished its journey to Mainland China, which started July 11 with New Party leader Yok Mu-ming meeting a standing committee member of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Central Committee Jia Qinglinin in Beijing. Jia commended the New Party's longstanding fight against secessionist forces in Taiwan, as well as its support for peaceful reunification between Taiwan and the Mainland. Yok Mu-ming, whose New Party was formed in 1993 as a result of then-President Lee Teng Hui's unabashed pro-independence sentiments, said that "his party will unswervingly oppose Taiwan independence and make further efforts to develop peaceful and stable relation across the [Taiwan] Strait."
During their first day in Beijing, the New Party visited Lugou bridge, the site synonymous with the July 7, 1937 incident that marked Japan's full-scale invasion of the north and central regions of China. The delegation also went to the memorial hall of the People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. The local residents greeted their fellow Chinese compatriots; they even got the chance to shake Yok Mu-ming's hand. Yok Mu-ming said, "Our Chinese nation has walked a long and winding road. We experienced heavy losses during the eight-year war against Japanese aggression and we should never forget history. I hope Chinese people from every corner of the world can work harder to usher in a bright future for our nation."
On the July 12, Yok Mu-ming gave a speech at Renmin University, and afterwards he was scheduled to meet with President Hu Jintao.