|Asia News Digest
Increasing earthquake activities predicted
On Oct. 9, the disputed (between India and Pakistan) state of Jammu and Kashmir experienced an earthquake of 7.6 on the Richter scale, followed by an aftershock of 7.5 Richter. Scientists pointed out that almost simultaneously, two other earthquakes rattled Indonesia and the Philippines. All three tremors were of different order of magnitude, had different epicenters, and none of them were identified as harmonic tremors signifying any volcanic activity. At the same time, the scientists believe that all three earthquakes were connected.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what caused this simultaneous outbreak of earthquakes thousands of miles apart. They believe these earthquakes were triggered by solar flares unhindered by Earth's weakened electromagnetic shields. If that turns out to be the reason, scientists have warned that the number of earthquakes will increase exponentially in the coming years.
The UN reports that about 1000 hospitals were destroyed by the earthquake
The massive earthquake that hit the politically-volatile hill state of Jammu and Kashmir on Oct. 9 has already claimed close to 30,000 people. As of Oct. 14, a large number of villages in the upper reaches of the Himalayas remained unattended, indicating a further rise in death toll in the coming days. The two most devastating impacts of the earthquake were: it killed off thousands of children, who were attending schools, and demolished about 1,000 hospitals where the injured ones could be attended to. A large number of children's bodies remained unclaimed since their parents also died. Pakistan's Interior Minister said: "A whole generation got wiped out."
Pakistan has sent an urgent appeal to the international community for field hospitals, as well as antibiotics, anti-typhoid medicines, fracture treatment kits, and surgical equipment, among other items. India has already brought in tents and blankets to set up temporary field hospitals and delivered 25 tons of life-saving drugs. WHO said "many health workers including doctors and nurses have died or been seriously injured."
Investors are pulling out of most Asian markets
According to the Indian and Pakistani press, all Asian markets have seen stock markets retreat in the first week of October as investors pulled out about $1.1 billion of foreign funds. According to a dealer with foreign brokerage firm, while high international oil prices and rising U.S. interest rates were weighing heavy in the minds of global investors, overpricing of stocks in the region were also making global investors uneasy. Among the key markets, South Korea has seen the highest outflow of $915 million, followed by Thailand at $150 million and India with $214 million. Investment in Indonesia and the Philippines remained flat, while Taiwan is the only exception, gaining $144 million during the same time period.
Violence sparked as Rice landed in Kabul
Violence broke out in Afghanistan the day U.S. Secretary Condoleezza Rice landed in Kabul from Bishkek for a one-day (Oct. 12) visit. Two rockets landed in Kabul injuring guards in the Canadian Embassy.
In Kandahar, unidentified armed men gunned down five doctors of the NGO, Afghan Health Development Service (AHDS), and wounded three others. Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, has remained violent since.
In the central Uruzgan province, where the anti-U.S., pro-Taliban rebels rule the roost, the U.S. Air Force carried out retaliatory attacks and reported the deaths of ten "suspected Taliban." The retaliatory measure was scheduled following the killing of 18 Afghan policemen in the adjacent Helmand province on Oct. 11.
Malaysia moves to engage Myanmar, despite screams from the West
Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Albar reported Oct. 10 from Myanmar that that country is taking cautious but definite steps toward its first elections since 1990. Legislative and judicial factors in its draft national constitution include power-sharing by year's end. Syed Albar held several meetings with the ruling junta, who, he said, are "moving slowly but steadily, although some Western countries have been putting pressure, saying that things should be moving much faster." Hamid added that "Prime Minister General Soe Win said he didn't want a hurried democracy with bloodshed, like Iraq. He wants to be careful and make sure the country is safe, stable and the people are united."
Syed Hamid Albar also met with Myanmar's State Peace and Development Council Senior General Than Shwe and Foreign Minister Nyin Win.
The Philippines is losing its refineries and its air force
Shell announced that they will shut down their refinery in the Philippines next year, just as Caltex did earlier. This leaves the Philippines with just one refinerythat of Petron Corp, a semi-government-owned companyforcing an even greater demand on imported gasoline.
Also, the Philippines retired the last of its 40 year old F-5 fighter jets, leaving only trainer aircraft to defend the country. The original 37 F-5s have been used in countering communist insurgencies and Muslim separatists and terrorists over the years. The bankrupt Philippines has one of the most primitive armed forces in the region, although the acquisition of the F-5s in 1965 made them the first nation in the region with supersonic fighters.
Japan's lower house approved Koizumi privatization bill
The Diet approved Koizumi's postal system privatization bill by a vote of 338 to 138 Oct. 10, after his overwhelming election victory Sept. 11 made it possible for Koizumi to pass any bill he likes in the Diet. Koizumi simply re-submitted the bills, almost identical to those voted down in August. Of the 37 LDP "rebels" who voted against the bills in August, only 17 survived the election, and only 4 voted against the bills this time.
Now, timing is the big question: when would the $4 trillion fund actually come under private-sector control, so that the cash could be sent out of the country to bail out Wall Street, for example? Under the legislation, Japan Post would be split into four different stock companies on Oct. 1, 2007 by function: mail delivery, savings, etc., by a public stock sale, but not "fully privatized" until 2017. Even between now and 2007, there will be such momentous chaos and change on the global currency markets (for example, a huge dollar collapse) that it is far from clear whether a private management could send cash abroad, two years from now let alone in 2017.
The U.S. is blocking a phone link between North and South Korea
The telephone connection between South Korea and the Kaesong joint industrial complex in the North is held up because Korea Telecom (KT) can't get Pentagon approval. U.S. regulations require South Korea to have U.S. approval on shipment of "dual-use items" to the North of anything with more than 10% U.S. technologies or components. Not that South Korea, the world capital of telecom equipment, can't find 100% Korean-made gear, but KT wants to ship up-to-date fiber optics, which have a U.S. component. If Washington won't ease up, they'll have to import North Korean equipment to the South instead, a form of insanity. Kaesong Industrial Complex, just north of the Demilitarized Zone, will accommodate 2,000 factories by 2010; fifteen plants are already shipping goods to stores across South Korea.
Meanwhile, Moody's Investors Service announced Oct. 5 that "clarification of North Korea's commitment to the joint statement" of the Six Powers made Sept. 19 is needed, before it can change South Korea's credit rating from "stable" to "positive," which means South Korean banks and companies as well as the government, must continue to pay the "Korean premium" of an extra charge to borrow money in world markets. Moody's said that the Sept. 19 statement had been "overshadowed by a subsequent statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, indicating that the North has apparently backtracked, demanding the immediate right to a 'peaceful' nuclear program before dismantling its weapons program."