|Asia News Digest
Pakistan: We Need Peaceful Coexistence; India Responds
March 31 (EIRNS)The new Pakistani Prime Minister, Makhdoom Yousaf Raza Gillani, has conveyed to the regional countries (read: India), that Pakistan believes in peaceful coexistence, while maintaining a credible defense to prevent military attacks on Pakistan. Gillani chose to issue the statement the very day he swore in his 24-member Cabinet. A day before the Prime Minister's announcement, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the most prominent group of Islamic militants operating within Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, and widely identified by the Western media as the "Pakistani Taliban," said it was ready for talks with the government, if and when Islamabad reverses its pro-American policies. TTP leaders told a rally in Bajaur Agency that they welcomed the announcement that the government would negotiate with the Taliban and end the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). TTP leaders also demanded the implementation of Sharia law and the jirga (assembly of elders), according to tribal traditions.
On March 29, Gillani told Parliament that fighting terrorism would be his top priority, and "We are ready to talk to all those people who give up arms and are ready to embrace peace." This prompted loud expressions of support from lawmakers.
Gillani's statement will no doubt be read very carefully in London, as well as in Washington. By improving its relations with its neighbors, particularly with India, Pakistan will strike a serious blow to the British-inspired destabilization in progress in the west of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan.
UN: In Bangladesh, Millions Face Starvation
April 4 (EIRNS)Five months after Cyclone Sidr devastated Bangladesh, millions of people are still homeless and at risk of starvation, say United Nations agencies. Bangladesh is one of the poorest and densely populated countries in the world, and is particularly vulnerable to floods because it is situated in the low-lying Ganges River delta.
Officials from aid organizations, the media, and the U.S. Embassy visited Morelganj in Bangladesh's southern Bagerhat district this week, to monitor food distribution. The group was headed by Gaddy Vasquez, U.S. ambassador to UN relief agencies in Rome. "You can be in Rome and have many discussions and debates about how to help, but nothing will show you the real dimensions of the problem like a visit to the terrain," said Vasquez in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).
Meanwhile, reports by World Food Program (WFP) from Pakistan said nearly half of Pakistan's 160 million people are at the risk of going short of food due to a surge in prices. The WFP survey covering the year to March showed the number of people deemed food insecure had risen 28%, to 77 million from 60 million in the previous year. Food prices rose at least 35% in the past year compared with an 18% rise in minimum wages. "There is a very big gap between the increase in prices and increase in wages.... The purchasing power of the poor has gone down by almost 50%," said Sahib Haq, an official with the WFP's Vulnerability Analysis & Mapping Unit in Pakistan.
Mekong Nations Build Rail, Road Connections
March 31 (EIRNS)The third summit of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) concluded today in Vientiane, Laos, with an agreement for five-year development of the region. This includes focus on the Singapore-Kunming rail line and regional highway transport projects. However, there was also bowing to environmentalist hysteria by promoting methane and other biofuel projects for rural areas. The prime ministers of Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and China all participated, with the head of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Haruhiko Kuroda.
In addition, the nations discussed measures to enhance cross-border links, while taking steps to curb the spread of disease.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao called for increasing construction of transport corridors and a highway network among the GMS nations. Wen pledged RMB20 million ($2.9 million) for an engineering study for the projected eastern link of the Singapore-Kunming rail line. He also said that China is already working with Thailand and the Asian Development Bank to speed up the building of the Houayxay-Chiang Khong International Bridge along the Kunming Bangkok Highway, so that this whole North-South road corridor will be completed by 2011. He proposed methods to form a unified power market in the Mekong Region, by developing power grid integration and power trade, as well as an Information Super Highway.
Wen also called for vigorous development of methane and other bio-mass energy as a rural project.
Final Stretch of Singapore-Beijing Road Completed
April 1 (EIRNS)The prime ministers of China, Thailand, and Laos officially opened the Route 3 Highway in Laos yesterday, the last remaining section of a highway network that runs from Singapore to Beijing, at the conclusion of the two-day Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) summit in Laos. Route 3 will pass from northern Thailand near Chiang Rai, through Laos into China, spanning 250 kilometers.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), Thailand, and China each contributed US$30 million to the project, with Laos contributing the remaining $7 million. The project will significantly open up Laos, which is landlocked.
ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda said that the highway will be open year-round, reducing travel time between Bangkok and Kunming in China from three days to little more than a day, and "revitalizing this ancient trade route."
Eurasian Strategic Triangle Reaching Out to Brazil
April 1 (EIRNS)The Eurasian Strategic Triangle nationsRussia, India, and Chinawill be drawing Brazil into their discussions on economic issues, when the three nations' foreign ministers meet in Russia in May, visiting Russian diplomat Konstantin Vnukov, director of the First Asian Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry, said at a press conference in New Delhi on March 28.
Vnukov was in Delhi for the initial meeting of the Russia, India, China (RIC) "Track One and a Half" group of foreign ministry officials and scholars, on strategic and economic issues. This process was launched at the last meeting of the three nations' foreign ministers, in Harbin, China in October 2007. This meeting, Vnukov said, "is expected to strengthen the dialogue process and solve problems that are political, economic, and humanitarian in nature." The foreign minister of Brazil has been invited to participate in one day of the talks, he said.
The fundamental issue is the Eurasian giants' role in the world, Vnukov and his Indian counterpart N. Ravi told the press. Russia, India, and China have 40% of the world's population and occupy 20% of its surface, but produce less than 10% of its GDP. Vnukov said that "in New Delhi, an exchange of views took place that included collaborating on the troika formation and coming together to deliberate on the security and stability of the region as a whole."
The most important topics discussed in New Delhi, which will be on the agenda of the May meeting in the Ural Mountains, are Central Asia and Iraq, and the "unfortunate" event of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia, Vnukov said. "The ministers will discuss this problem," because such "separatist" tendencies have a "negative effect" on other parts of the world, he said. Asked about Tibet, he said it would be discussed if one of the participating ministers raised the issue. United Nations reform and climate change were also on the agenda in New Delhi.
"Russia, India, and China are drivers of the world economy, [and] of course, there is Brazil as well," Vnukov said. "BRIC will be based on economic and financial ties. While RIC will not exclude economic issues from its discussions, it will chiefly concentrate on international problems," he said.
'Polite' Beijing Doesn't Like Paulson's Message
April 2 (EIRNS)Visiting U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had to admit that the leaders of China are concerned by the collapse of the U.S. economy. After he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao today, Paulson blathered about the U.S. markets "making progress." But, he told the press, "I would say there is no doubt that what is happening in U.S. markets clearly has to give the Chinese pause. They may be too polite to say that directly, but it clearly has to be giving them pause."
Paulson pressed China to loosen exchange controls on the yuan, which has risen sharply against the crashing dollar, at the same time that the nation is under so much pressure from Tibet and other separatist operations.
Hu responded by telling Paulson that China and the United States have a "shared responsibility" to safeguard the health, stability, and development of the world economy. Hu said China wants to work with the U.S. to "appropriately handle sensitive issues," the Chinese foreign ministry reported. Hu said Beijing would "intensify" communication and coordination with the U.S. on macro-economic policies. Paulson's trip will be followed up by the fourth meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue in Washington in June.
"This will not work," Lyndon LaRouche commented on Hu's statement. "The Chinese will keep trying, but this will not work. Behind the mask, which is hiding their real reaction to the crisis, the Chinese are developing a real, bitter hatred of what is being done to them."