|Asia News Digest
U.S. Commandos To Enter Pakistan's Tribal Areas
March 5 (EIRNS)Pakistan's former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief and one of the mentors of the Afghan Taliban movement, Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, told the Italian news agency AKI in Karachi: "Seven hundred and fifty American commandoes will participate in upcoming military operations in the Pakistani tribal areas.... I confirm this to you on the basis of my information that those American commandoes will be sent through private contracting firms like Blackwater, and they will supervise the whole operation." Gul was referring to the private security firm that has been at the center of a controversy over private contractors in Iraq. Gul revealed this on the same day a suicide attack on a government office guarded by Afghan and NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan left two alliance soldiers dead and four more wounded, a U.S. military spokesman said.
Although the arrival of the U.S. commandos in Pakistan was reported earlier, it was not clear that the decision had been reached to move into the tribal areas, despite strong opposition of the locals and the Nawaz Sharif-led political party, PML(N), the second-largest vote getter in the Feb. 18 elections. The PML(N) calls it disregard of Pakistan's sovereign nation-state status.
It is evident that the decision to send the U.S. commandos was made earlier, and the U.S. Centcom chief, Adm. Mike Mullen, who is in Islamabad, holding talks with both President Pervez Musharraf and Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is there to inform the Pakistanis. Mullen "is here to continue developing the relationship military-to-military and to discuss a range of bilateral issues of mutual concern, including regional security," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth Colton told AFP.
Uzbekistan To Allow U.S. Use of Termez Military Base
March 5 (EIRNS)Robert Simmons, NATO's special envoy for the Caucasus and Central Asia, was quoted in Moscow that Uzbekistan was now willing to let the United States use Termez, an Uzbek airbase operated by Germany. Simmons told journalists that NATO is seeking Russian help, which could include regular use of Russian transport to get supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan, and possible Russian contributions to the re-equipment of the Afghan army. He said NATO and Russia had common ground on Afghanistan, and that he would hold discussions with Russian officials on possible help from Moscow.
Once an ally in the U.S.-declared war on terror, Uzbekistan evicted U.S. troops from the Karshi-Khanabad airbase in 2005, when the Uzbek authorities accused the West of instigating anti-government protesters, which led to the firing on protesters in the town of Andizhan in the Ferghana Valley.
However, a noticeable shift in the attitude of Tashkent occurred following U.S. Adm. William Fallon's visit there in January, the first high-level attempt to mend ties since 2005.
On the use of the Termez base, an unnamed Western diplomat in Tashkent said the deal involved allowing U.S. military personnel to use the base as a refueling point on their way to Afghanistan and back. "I understand ... U.S. soldiers will be able to fly via Termez, but only aboard German aircraft," the diplomat said. "I don't know if there are any similar agreements with other nations."
India Charts Its Own Course with Myanmar
March 5 (EIRNS)India has invited Gen. Maung Aye, the second-highest-ranking member of the Myanmar junta, to visit New Delhi in April, despite stated opposition from U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during his recent visit to New Delhi. Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon was in Nay Pyi Taw, the new Myanmar capital, last week to prepare for the visit. The U.S. and EU, in particular, seek the total isolation of Myanmar.
It is said in New Delhi that Menon played a role in persuading the junta to offer plans for a May referendum on the new Constitution, to be followed by general elections in 2010. It was the first time the junta has set specific dates for steps in an earlier-announced "roadmap to democracy." However, sources claim that the main objective of Menon's visit, other than doing the preparatory ground work for Gen. Maung Aye's visit to India, was to get India and Myanmar engaged in new diplomatic initiatives. Recently, Myanmar awarded India the right to build, operate, and use the port of Sittwe, strategically located on the Bay of Bengal. It is a $120 million project.
In January, Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win met with Indian leaders in Delhi. Days later, India's Commerce Ministry announced that it had won the right to develop the Sittwe port. By the end of January, the UN Secretary General's special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, travelled to Delhi, but the Indian government made clear to him that India would invoke its democratic credentials to tell Myanmar independently, that political reconciliation between the military and detained political leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party was the only alternative to pressure-cooker outbursts within a divided population. Above all, India must maintain a fine balance on Myanmar, Gambari was told.
'People's Livelihood' Lead Economic Issue in China
March 6 (EIRNS)The Chinese government's commitment to ensuring "the people's livelihood" was the leading issue of the joint press conference today in Beijing given by National Development and Reform Commission Minister Ma Kai, People's Bank of China Governor Zhouo Xiaochuan, and Finance Minister Xie Xuren during the ongoing annual session of the National People's Congress. These three leading policy-makers for China's economy described the measures being taken to improve the general welfare of China's 1.4 billion people during the conference, which was broadcast by China's official national CCTV. The "people's livelihood," a concept which goes back to China's great republican Sun Yat-sen and his commitment to the American system, was introduced as a fundamental policy for China by President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during the Communist Party Congress in October 2007.
Xie Xuren elaborated on the specific policies which have been undertaken since the Communist Party Congress, for investment in the rural population and economy, as well as raising living standards for the urban poor. While the measures indicate just how poor a nation China isthe per-capita increase in social security spending is only about 200 yuan a yearmany of the income support and pension payments will double or almost double this year. "By these means, we hope to ensure the livelihood of the people," Xie said.
China: Financial Crisis Something 'We Never Experienced Before'
March 6 (EIRNS)China is faced with economic and financial challenges the nation "never expected and experienced before," People's Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan emphasized several times during today's economic press conference in Beijing. One key issue will be the effects of Washington's inflationary reaction to the crisis, and the effect this will have on the world, and China itself, which is already urgently trying to curb excessive liquidity. China must watch this closely, Zhou said, since the "impact will go far beyond our experience and existing knowledge."
During the press conference, broadcast on China's official CCTV, Zhou spoke about the "U.S. subprime crisis," in answer to journalists' questions, but said that the problem is much broader. "There will be further indirect impact from the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis on China's economy in the future. It cannot be underestimated, since what lies ahead is far beyond [our] previous experience," Zhou said.
Even on the subprime collapse itself, "We are not aware of the whole picture," Zhou said. While the direct effect of subprime investment losses on China's own banks is containable, there are much bigger ramifications. What happens in the U.S. will affect world trade, and this will have an impact on China, including via trade with Europe. U.S. measures "against the downturn," such as its "expansionary" (i.e., inflationary) monetary policy and interest rate cuts, are going to affect China and its own policies. If the excessive liquidity in the global financial system "gets worse," this will affect China, he said. China is already urgently trying to curb excessive liquidity, a lot of which comes from its huge trade surplus with the United States. "We have to monitor the situation. We need to understand it. Many impacts will go far beyond our experiences and existing knowledge."