|Asia News Digest
U.S.-China Collaboration in Afghanistan
March 11 (EIRNS)Although the tiff between the United States and China in the South China Sea has caught the headlines of all major media, there is an area of consequence where these two nations are cooperating that remains virtually unreported.
In Afghanistan's Wardak province, in the mountains south of Kabul, the U.S. Army is providing the security that will enable China to develop one of the world's largest unexploited deposits of copper needed for its growing manufacturing sector. U.S. troops set up bases in February along a dirt track that a Chinese firm is paving, as part of a $3 billion project to gain access to the copper reserves. Some troops made camp outside a compound built for the Chinese road crews. American forces also have expanded their presence in neighboring Logar province, where the Aynak deposit is.
The site was discovered by an Afghan-Soviet team in 1974. However, in the face of armed resistance during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Soviets were never able to develop the site.
Washington claims the U.S. deployment was not intended to protect the Chinese investment, the largest in Afghanistan's history, but to strangle Taliban infiltration into Kabul. But if the mission provides the security that a project to revive Afghanistan's economy needs, the synergy will be welcome, Washington says.
Pakistan, Iran Join in Drug Crackdown, British Troops Spared
March 11 (EIRNS)Officials at the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told AP that Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan carried out their first joint counter-narcotics operation on March 8, pooling intelligence to arrest suspects and seize drugs, in an unprecedented show of cooperation. "We are waiting anxiously for the results in terms of arrests and seizures," said UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa, hailing the operation for sending "a very important political message" to drug traffickers.
According to Kaveh L Afrasiabi, writing for the Asia Times, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Iran to attend a "big tent" conference on Afghanistan on March 31. With characteristic candor, she has cited Tehran's problems with the Afghan drugs smuggled into Iran, as one of several reasons why the Iranians should participate in the UN-sponsored event. Iran has announced it will accept the invitation.
Tehran's government estimates that 2,500 tons of opium enter the country from Afghanistan each year, 700 tons of which is destined for consumption in Iran, and that on average the Iranian police seize 500 tons every year.
Singapore Is Caught in UBS Crisis
March 12 (EIRNS)Singapore, under the direction of its "Minister Mentor" Lee Kuan Yew, has placed itself in the line of fire of the Obama Administration's campaign to break the "secret bank accounts" policies in Switzerland which have helped thousands of people criminally avoid paying taxes. Singapore's Government Investment Corporation (GIC), which, like everything in Singapore, takes its lead from former Prime Minister Lee (known in London as the "best bloody Englishman east of the Suez"), sank well over $10 billion into the leading Swiss oligarchical institution, UBS, with the intention of becoming the "Gnomes of Asia," where newly rich Chinese and others could hide their money safely from prying government eyes.
Now, not only is Singapore losing money as UBS is going down with all the other banks, but Singapore is also on the hot seat. As Asia Sentinel (a British intelligence outfit) wrote on March 9: "The relationship with this high-powered Swiss instrument of tax-avoidance and money-laundering goes deeper. UBS is the most important foreign player in Singapore's mostly successful promotion of itself as the wealth management center of Asia." To show the moneyed class that it could be trusted with their money and their secrets, the GIC, in 2007, "became the privileged occupant of one of the top ten colonial era buildings in all of SingaporeCommand House, the former residence of British military commanders," including Adm. Lord Louis Mountbatten, who ran the British re-occupation of the Asian colonies after the death of Franklin Roosevelt.
Now, the U.S. has forced UBS to pay fines after being caught advising Americans on how to cheat on their taxes, and the bank is fighting to prevent the United States from opening up 52,000 secret accounts. The Sentinel notes: "If UBS eventually loses in U.S. courts, it will either have to break its promised secrecy on a massive scale, or have its whole U.S. operations shut down."
Drugs Flooding Xinjiang
March 11 (EIRNS)Regional authorities in Xinjiang region in western China cannot cope with the fast-rising drug trafficking from the bordering "Golden Crescent" areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, regional Gov. Nur Bekri said at a press conference during the National People's Congress session in Beijing yesterday. "We have asked [Beijing] for the deployment of more security forces along the border. The current number is simply not enough," Bekri said. He added that local police dealt with 1,563 drug-related cases last year, and at least 50% of the drugs came from the Golden Crescent, while in the capital city of Urumqi, 70% of the drugs come from this area.
"While traffickers are trying to make Xinjiang a transit point, consumption within the region is increasing as well," Bekri said. HIV infection, at almost 25,000 cases, is now at the highest rate in all China. Overall, the security situation in Xinjiang is "more severe" than in earlier years, he said.
Minister: Chinese Agriculture Faces Enormous Problems
March 12 (EIRNS)The agricultural population of China, some 800 million people, is facing an "unusually complicated and severe" economic situation due to the world crisis, Vice Minister of Agriculture Wei Chao'an said at a press conference in Beijing.
Farmers' incomes, which are barely at subsistence level as a national average, are being further squeezed by falling agricultural prices, starting last September, Wei said. "The employment outlook for migrant workers cannot be optimistic for the future, which will exacerbate the difficulty more than ever to keep rural income growing." He said that in some regions, unemployment for migrant workers is running as high as 25-33%.
Some 4.78 million more rural workers got jobs in factories or other urban workplaces in 2008, Wei said. This was an increase, but the growth was 2.5% slower than in 2007, and the slowest growth in new jobs for migrants since 2000.
The international market right now has an "excessive supply," due to good harvests last year, Wei said, but falling consumption of biofuels. While prices for agricultural products are falling, the huge rural population is also losing alternative employment, as the labor-intensive small and medium-sized enterprises in the coastal regions go under. Agriculture Ministry surveys are showing that some 10% of migrant workers have returned to their home towns after losing their jobswhich would be some 20 million people. Wei warned that the situation will get even more serious in May or June.
The growth of agricultural exports has also slowed down, he said, both in volume and value for some products.
Wei said that government policy is also committed to keeping China 95% self-sufficient in grain production. Currently, China "can surely secure the country's food security and maintain grain prices at the home market, as our state-owned grain depots have much bigger stockpiles than last year, with the total amount much higher than the international level of grain reserve."