|Asia News Digest
Nepal Maoists Sign Agreement To End Civil Conflict
The agreement signed in Kathmandu on Nov. 21 by aging Prime Minister G.P. Koirala and the powerful Maoist leader Pushpa Dahal (nom de guerre: Prachandawhich means "the ruthless one"), called for an end to the civilian conflict, which has raged for over ten years, and has led to the death of at least 13,000 people in Nepal and brought in the United States as an arms supplier to the Royal Nepali Army.
The agreement was signed seven months after King Gyanendra, who led the army to eliminate the Maoists, surrendered power to political parties.
The agreement has the fingerprints of India all over it. That makes one wonder how valid it will be in the long term. Comrade Prachanda was in New Delhi in mid-November working out the details. During his stay there, Prachanda made clear that he feels threatened by the U.S.-backed Nepali Army. He also told the Indians that during the civil conflict, he was approached "again and again" by the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI. Prachanda said the ISI told the Maoists that, "it was ready to lend its hand in terms of weapons supply and others, but we bluntly refused." During the civilian conflict, New Delhi had leaned toward support of the king and had opposed the Maoists tooth and nail.
Meanwhile, a government commission has found King Gyanendra responsible for a bloody crackdown in April on pro-democracy demonstrators that left at least 19 dead and hundreds injured, government officials said on Nov. 20. The commission, in its report, said the king should be punished for this incident, but did not mention the penalty.
India and China To Cooperate in Agricultural Research
China and India have reached an agreement for joint agricultural research, whose purpose is to prevent future famine in the region, NDTV reported Nov. 22. Making that pledge, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have agreed to work together. The signing of the agreement took place during Chinese President Hu Jintao's Nov. 20-23 visit to India.
Together, India and China have to feed almost 2.4 billion people. As a result, both countries depend very heavily on agriculture, a sector that employs over half the workforce in both countries, which have now come to an agreement that the focus of the sector will be shared technology to maximize yield. "We are almost one-third-plus of humanity of the world, and we have limited land and water resources. So, it is technology-led growth that will be of paramount significance," said Dr. Mangala Rai, Director-General of the ICAR.
In the productivity of rice, China is well ahead of India in using very-high-yield variety seeds. While India produces 87 million tons of rice in an average year, cultivating 42 million hectares, China produces 178 million tons of rice from 29 million hectares. But, what attracts the Chinese the most about India's agricultural sector, is its extension service activities on farm mechanization.
Cautious Approach on India-China Defense Cooperation
Despite some expectations within a section of Indian military circles, Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit did not advance India-China defense ties. The joint statement issued following the meeting of the two heads of state, was cautious: "[T]he exchange of visits in the field of defence cooperation has resulted in building of mutual trust and enhancement of mutual understanding between the defence establishments of the two countries...." The document was silent on an important element of the May 29 memorandum of understandingsigned by the Indian Defense Minister and his Chinese counterpartbuilding of joint military exercises. This aspect, one military officer pointed out, was the building block and the litmus test of bilateral military ties.
What is evident from what transpired during President Hu's visit to India, is that while New Delhi does not "distrust" Beijing, it will proceed in this direction with caution. The reason? One military officer pointed out: "Given the closeness of ties between China and Pakistan in military matters, we would be extremely wary of opening up our defense establishments to the Chinese or giving them an insight into our strategic thinking, particularly since we have an unresolved border dispute with them."
Huge Demonstrations vs. Bush in Indonesia
Thousands of protesters demonstrated against President Bush as he arrived for a short stop in Indonesia Nov. 19. About 7,000 people showed up at Merdeka Square in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, organized by the Muslim Forum, representing 80 Islamic groups. Another protest in Jakarta drew 5,000, while dozens of other protests were held across the country.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met Bush at the historic mountain town of Bogor, with 18,000 police protecting the palace. Yudhoyono said in their joint press conference, that he had called for Bush to involve all the nations in the Mideast in solving the Iraq crisis, and to "deploy a new set-up of security forces in parallel withsome day, based on a proper timetablethe disengagement of U.S. military forces and other coalition forces from Iraq."
APEC Communique Rejects Bush/Cheney Demands on Korea
The final communique of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) issued Nov. 20 from its meeting in Vietnam, has no mention of North Korea, again demonstrating the isolation of the Bush/Cheney policy. Bush and the U.S. delegation to the APEC conference noisily called for its 21 members to strongly condemn North Korea, but they agreed neither to mention it in the communique nor to issue a separate statement. South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, in particular, publicly rejected Bush's call to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is intended to stop North Korean ships on the high seas.
The most Bush could get was a verbal statement by Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, at a press conference, that APEC "called upon parties concerned to come back to the six-party talks so as to reach a satisfactory solution at an earliest possible date."
Bush's other primary goal at APEC was to discuss an APEC Free Trade Agreement (FTA), but the ministers in the pre-meetings refused to even put it on the agenda.
Except for talks and agreements between national leaders on the sidelines, the only "result" of the summit was a call for resuscitating the rotting corpse of the Doha round of the WTO free trade talks.
China's Migrant-Worker Population Reaches 115 Million
The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture reports that the country's migrant-worker population has swollen to 114.9 million, with an estimated increase of 6.7 million people this year, according to press coverage Nov. 23. The ministry expects that at least another 4 million workers will join the huge migrant workforce each year in the coming period. Wages for these workers, averaging 852 yuan ($106) a month, are much higher than they would earn on the land. Of China's 1.3 billion people, over 800 million are farmers.
In an interview with the People's Daily published Nov. 21, Prof. Zhang Zhenhe of Beijing's China Agricultural University said that incomes in the cities are 3.2 times higher than in rural areas, while farmers have to use large parts of their incomes to buy seed and so forth for their next crop. Consumption levels in rural areas are at least a full decade behind those of urban residents, and city dwellers have much greater social benefits in housing, education, health, and social security. Only 10% of rural people have medical coverage, and 80% of farmers have to pay all their own medical expenses, while there has been a "drastic" rise in medical costs in recent years. In the cities, 43 times more people have a university education than in the countryside, and 3.4 times more have a middle school education.
Official urban unemployment is only 5%, but "only about half of the 400 million rural laborers staying behind in rural villages are now working, if 130 million immigrant workers are excluded," Zhang said.