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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Defying Vatican, China Ordains Catholic Bishop

China ordained a new Catholic bishop on Thursday in defiance of the Vatican.
The consecration was carried out by China's Patriotic Catholic Association without papal approval, indicating that no progress has been made in improving relations between Beijing and the Holy See.

Thirty-six-year-old Wang Renlei was ordained as Catholic Bishop of Xuzhou, in China's eastern province of Jiangsu. The ordination contradicts Catholic Church doctrine, which stipulates that only the Vatican can appoint bishops.

The ordination is the third this year without Vatican approval--a sign that normalized relations between Beijing and the Holy See are still a long way off.

Beijing and the Vatican severed ties in the 1950s, after the Chinese Communist Party took control of the country. The Vatican later established diplomatic relations with China's Taiwan, a breakaway democracy that Beijing considers part of its territory and has vowed to take back by force if necessary.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said Thursday that Beijing is still sincere about improving relations with the Vatican; but she laid down conditions.

"The Chinese government's principle in handling China-Vatican relations is consistent," Jiang said. "We have always adhered to two principles. The Vatican must sever so-called diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and not interfere in China's internal affairs, including using religion to interfere in China's internal affairs."

In recent years, the two sides appeared to be moving towards normalizing relations, and apparently reached an understanding that the Vatican would be allowed to approve Chinese bishops before the Chinese government appointed them. That understanding was seriously undermined earlier this year when the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association appointed two bishops without Vatican approval.

The government organization says the ordinations are necessary, as China's Catholic Church is short of bishops.

But analysts say China's Communist Party does not want any foreign organization to have influence over its people.

China's official Catholic Church has some four million followers. Millions more are believed to be loyal to the Vatican.

Some worship in so-called underground churches independent of government control, and are subject to official persecution if they are discovered.

Fiji Prepares for Possible Fourth Coup

More trouble in paradise: Fiji is apparently about to experience its fourth coup since 1987.

The Pacific island nation's military commander, Frank Bainimarama, has threatened to replace the government by Friday afternoon unless it moves immediately to meet his demands.

The military chief said Thursday that if his demands are not met by 12:00 PM local time Friday, there will be a "peaceful transition." He said he "does not expect any confrontation."

Bainimarama also told reservists to get ready for a "clean-up" campaign against the government. He stressed that the campaign would be peaceful.

Coup fears intensified overnight when hundreds of Fijian troops conducted a night-time exercise in the capital, Suva, in a show of force allegedly aimed at preparing troops for possible" foreign intervention" in the country's political crisis.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase agreed to withdraw several contentious bills if a legal examination finds they are unconstitutional. One bill would grant amnesty to those involved in Fiji's 2000 coup.

Bainimarama was almost killed in a failed but bloody mutiny linked to the 2000 coup; and he accuses Qarase for being soft on those behind the recent upheavals.

The prime minister also hinted that the government would welcome a decision by state prosecutors to end an investigation into possible sedition charges against the military commander.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase agreed to withdraw several contentious bills if a legal examination finds they are unconstitutional.

New Zealand-brokered crisis talks between Bainimarama and Qarase ended Wednesday without an agreement on averting a coup.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council urged the military to exercise restraint and refrain from any action that would undermine the rule of law.

Australian analysts say they expect Bainimarama is likely to stage a military coup within two weeks.

Australia, Britain and New Zealand have advised their nationals against travelling to Fiji.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Chinese Expert: Baker Aims for Israeli Withdrawal

One of China's leading Middle East experts is advising his government that relations between the United States and Israel are about to take a sharp turn--downhill. The expert, who is associated with an important government-run think tank, contends that the Iraq Study Group headed by former US Secretary of State James Baker will recommend pressuring Israel into pulling back to pre-1967 boundaries--lines that existed before the Six-Day War--and dismantling disputed Jewish settlements in the contested West Bank territory, which Israel captured from Jordan in that conflict.

Along with formerly Egyptian-controlled Gaza and the Golan Heights, which Israel seized in fighting with Syria, the so-called West Bank (actually a misnomer as all of Israel lies west of the Jordan River) is widely expected to constitute a new Palestinian state in the context of a comprehensive settlement of the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Iraq Study Group, which is co-chaired by former US Congressman Lee Hamilton, wants to see the speedy formation of such a state, according to the Chinese expert, in order to undercut Iranian influence in the Middle East and break up the alliance between the Islamist Shiite regime and secular Syria (a predominantly Sunnni state run by members of the secretive Alawite sect, which many in the Middle East regard as a Shiite offshoot).

Behind the Baker scheme, the Chinese expert says, is an increasingly critical, if not downright negative, view of Israel. Instead of seeing the Jewish state as a strategic asset, Baker and others in Washington who share his thinking reportedly regard Israel as a dangerous liability. The interminable conflict with the Palestinians is cast as a useful wedge for Iran in its drive for regional dominance--and an impediment to US relations the Arab world and Muslim nations in general. The critical--some would argue hostile--analysis holds that the US should gradually withdraw from Israel, shifting the "burden" of assuring its security to the international community--including China and Russia.

US, North Korea Agree to Resume Six-Party Talks

After engaging in Chinese-brokered, bilateral and trilateral discussions, the United States and North Korea have agreed to resume the long-stalled six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear issue "as soon as possible," according to China's Foreign Ministry, which reported the breakthrough on its website.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei met with US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan and decided to resume the six-way talks as soon as possible, the ministry said, without offering a firm date.

"Through multiple rounds of trilateral and bilateral talks, the three sides exchanged views on pushing forward the process of the six-party talks and boosted mutual understanding in a candid and in-depth manner," the ministry said. It added that the three sides also agreed to try to achieve positive progress during the informal discussions in Beijing.

China Confidential has learned that North Korea--with Chinese support--pressed the US to lift the economic sanctions it imposed on Pyongyang for its alleged money laundering through banks in Macao, a special administrative region of China. Sources say the US gave North Korea a clear indication that while Washington was not prepared to agree to a precondition for resuming talks, which broke down a year ago over the money laundering issue, it was "flexible" and likely to yield once formal negotiations were underway.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

US Admits to 'Information Exchange' with N. Korea

It's official.

In a possible precedent for resolving the nuclear standoff with Iran, the United States and North Korea have begun an intense, direct dialogue--which US officials are downplaying as an information exchange--ahead of an anticipated resumption of Chinese-sponsored, six-party nuclear negotiations.

Envoys representing the US and North Korea are scheduled to meet in Beijing for a second straight day Wednesday to try to pave the way for a new round of negotiations on Pyongyang's provocative nuclear program, according to the US State Department. The six-party talks are expected to resume before the end of the year.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill spent much of the last two weeks in Beijing meeting with Chinese officials.

On Monday, his North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, joined the dialogue, first in a three-way meeting with Hill and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei and then in a separate meeting with the US envoy. (Scroll down for yesterday's story.)

At a news briefing in Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said plans call for the talks to continue Wednesday under the same format including another separate US-North Korean session.

Although he declined to provide details of what occurred in the initial round between Hill and Kim, McCormack denied that the meeting was an attempt to shape a nuclear deal outside the six-party format:

"I wouldn't call what you have negotiations," the State Department spokesman said. "We are providing information to the North Koreans. They are providing information back to us. There's no guarantee that when you get to the talks, that that's the actual outcome that you're going to arrive at. One would hope that when all the six parties get together, and everybody has all their input--lay it on the table--that you come up with a good solution that allows us to move this process forward."

The six-party talks, which include South Korea, Russia and Japan as well as North Korea, the US and China, began in Beijing in 2003 after the breakdown of a bilateral US-North Korean nuclear freeze arrangement reached in 1994.

An agreement in principle was reached in September of last year under which North Korea was to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees from the other parties.

But Pyongyang refused to return to the talks after November of 2005, citing banking sanctions imposed by the Bush administration because of alleged North Korean counterfeiting of US currency and other illicit financial activity.

The process hit a low ebb after North Korea defied the international community and tested a nuclear device on October 9 (China Confidential predicted the date of the explosion) and was slapped with United Nations sanctions. The measures were watered down as a result of Chinese and Russian opposition to truly tough sanctions, including a naval blockade and interdictions and inspections at sea of suspect ships.

Pyongyang agreed to return to the six-party talks at the end of October after meetings with US and Chinese diplomats.

US, North Korean Envoys Meet in Beijing

Negotiators from the United States, China and North Korea met in Beijing Tuesday to discuss restarting six-party talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

China's Foreign Ministry acknowledged that Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei met Tuesday with US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan shortly after the North Korean negotiator arrived in Beijing. Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China hopes the meetings will lead to the early resumption of the six-party negotiations.

Neither the Chinese spokeswoman nor the US embassy would say whether Hill and Kim met separately or were accompanied at all times by their Chinese counterpart. Nor would they say whether the meetings would continue. The North Korean embassy had no comment.

The US, Chinese and North Korean envoys are keeping a low profile, avoiding any encounters with the news media.

Their Japanese and South Korean counterparts, who also are visiting Beijing this week, stayed out of the limelight, too.

Russia, the sixth member of the negotiations, has not sent an emissary to the current round of meetings in Beijing.

The North Korean negotiator has been the most outspoken envoy to the meetings. Upon his arrival in Beijing, Kim told reporters that a date for resuming the talks depends on US willingness to overcome issues that divide the two countries.

He said that through the nuclear test, North Korea has taken defensive measures against sanctions imposed on it, adding that now that North Korea is a nuclear nation, it can negotiate on an "equal level" with the other five nations.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Japanese Riot Cops Raid Korean Group

In the latest in a series of efforts to limit illegal exports to North Korea, a special Japanese police on Monday raided facilities connected to the secretive Stalinist state.

Riot police were called in when officials of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan tried to block police from raiding their Tokyo area head office.

Police say they are investigating an unauthorized attempt to smuggle 60 bags of intravenous solutions to North Korea six months ago.

An elderly Korean woman allegedly smuggled the bags, given to her by a Tokyo doctor, onto a North Korean-bound vessel. Japanese customs officers seized the bags of nutritional solution before the ship departed, because she did not have a license to export them.

Japanese media say the liquids could have been used to make biochemical weapons. A spokesman for the association, who asked to be identified only as Mr. Jon, says that is not true.

"Japanese media say that, but actually that is completely false," Jon said.

Police raided facilities in Tokyo and the city of Niigata affiliated with the association, known as Chosen Soren in Japanese and as Chongryon in Korean.

Several hundred thousand ethnic Koreans live in Japan, many of them descendants of workers brought to the country during Tokyo's colonial rule over Korea in the early 20th century. Thousands of them are sympathetic to North Korea.

Chongryon's offices have been regarded as de facto North Korean diplomatic facilities and considered off-limits to law enforcement. Japan and North Korea have never established official ties.

Chongryon spokesman Mr. Jon said official scrutiny of the group has risen since Shinzo Abe, seen as a hardliner toward Pyongyang, became prime minister in late September.

"This anti-Korean residents' trend in Japan has increased after Abe has power," he told reporters.

Japan imposed trade and financial restrictions on North Korea and halted shipping to Pyongyang following its provocative test of a nuclear weapon last month.

In August, Japanese police arrested a pro-North Korea resident for allegedly exporting state machinery that could be used to make biological weapons.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

South Korea Gripped by Bird Flu Outbreak

South Korea is trying to control an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in one of the country's biggest poultry producing areas, cordoning off infected farms and slaughtering thousands of birds.

South Korean health officials stepped up quarantine measures at an area around a farm in Iksan, about 230 kilometers south of Seoul.

Officials began slaughtering and burying 236,000 birds within a 500-meter radius of the outbreak site.

Investigators confirmed Saturday that the virulent strain of avian flu known as H5N1 was responsible for the sudden deaths of more than 6,000 chickens at the farm just days earlier. A further 6,000 birds were culled immediately.

The Chief Veterinary Officer at South Korea's Agriculture Ministry, Kim Chang-seob, told reporters Sunday that an area 10 kilometers around the infected farm has been quarantined and strict restrictions imposed on the movement of livestock.

Kim said South Korea is not enacting any new policies to deal with the Iksan infection, since the government is already on very high alert against bird flu during this season. He said the authorities will focus their efforts on stopping the spread of the infection, and finding any other infections that may have occurred.

This is the first incidence of H5N1 in South Korea since 2003, when at least nine people were infected.

The World Health Organization says that strain has infected 258 people in 10 countries during the past three years, killing 153 of them. WHO researchers say most, if not all, of the infections were passed from poultry to humans, and usually involved people working in close contact with live birds.

WHO authorities fear the H5N1 strain may mutate into a virus that can be transmitted from human to human.

Kim said it will still take time to confirm the source of the Iksan outbreak. He said possible sources include migratory birds, tourist traffic, or smuggling of livestock and produce from abroad.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

China, Pakistan Sign Wide-Ranging Accord

China's President Hu Jintao toured cultural sites in Pakistan's ancient city of Lahore Saturday, a day after the two Asian allies pledged to increase their economic, military and cultural ties.

Hu arrived in Lahore to tour historical sites. He met provincial leaders and attended a reception at an ancient garden in the heart of the city.

On Friday, the Chinese president and his Pakistani counterpart, Pervez Musharraf, signed a wide-ranging agreement.

The accord includes a trade deal that would more than triple bilateral trade to $15 billion over the next five years.

The two countries also said they would expand their long-standing military cooperation. And Hu said Beijing will continue to help Islamabad develop its nuclear energy program.

The Chinese leader traveled to Pakistan from India, where he said Beijing welcomes improved relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

Hu is scheduled to return to Beijing on Sunday.

China Investing Billions in Infrastructure

China plans to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrade its infrastructure, as the country struggles to alleviate traffic congestion and other effects of the years of explosive economic expansion.

China's plan to improve its infrastructure is one of the most ambitious in modern history. The government says it plans to spend $440 billion on the project during the next 30 years, constructing thousands of kilometers of highways and railway lines.

Officials say the investment is needed to ensure that the country's infrastructure keeps up with the economy's rapid growth. Annual GDP growth has averaged nine to 10 percent over the past decade, making logistics both more important, and more difficult.

New roads are constantly being built in Beijing, but construction is unable to keep up with the numbers of new cars hitting the city's streets. Car ownership by a newly affluent public has rocketed, and so has congestion on roads that were not built for so much traffic.

While development has sped along on the country's wealthy eastern seaboard, the inland provinces are still struggling to support basic transportation networks.

China's National Development and Reform Commission says the planned expansion of the railways is the largest in the country's history, and will increase the total rail network by 20 percent.

In recent years, bottlenecks in the transportation network have left piles of coal stranded outside mines, while power stations that slowed operations for lack of coal caused blackouts.

China plans to invest $190 billion in the rail network. By 2010, the plan calls for 90,000 kilometers of track, and high-speed trains capable of running 200 kilometers per hour.

The government also plans to more than double the current road network by 2030, investing $250 billion in the effort.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Chinese Court Rejects Appeal of Journalist

A Chinese court on Firday rejected the appeal of a Hong Kong journalist convicted of spying for Taiwan.

The court upheld the conviction of Ching Cheong, a correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper.

Ching was sentenced to five years in prison following his conviction in August.

Chinese authorities detained Ching in April 2005 during a visit to the city of Guangzhou, in southern China. Ching's wife says he was there to collect documents about the late Zhao Ziyang, the former Chinese Communist Party leader.

Zhao was purged after expressing sympathy for participants in the pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

International rights groups say the charges against Ching are part of an effort by the Chinese government to tighten control over the media.

China: No Date for Resumption of Six-Party Talks

China's foreign ministry said Thursday that no firm date had been set for resumption of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jian Yu told reporters the date for the talks is still under discussion, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Jian called on all parties to take a flexible and substantive approach on the North Korean nuclear issue.

On Wednesday, the South Korean news agency, Yonhap, quoted a North Korean official as saying the North will not abandon its nuclear weapons program ahead of the talks.

The United States State Department downplayed the remarks. A spokesman said the US saw nothing disturbing in the comments and does not see North Korea pulling back from the talks.

North Korea agreed last month to return to the talks following an underground nuclear test.

The six-party talks bring together North and South Korea, China, the US, Japan and Russia.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Muslim Militants and Spicy Thai Shrimp Soup

Muslim militants in Thailand's three southernmost provinces are raising money through a network of Thai restaurants in neighboring Malaysia.

So says Thailand's Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont. After emerging from a cabinet meeting late Tuesday, the Thai leader was asked by reporters how the Islamists that have terrorized his country's deep South for the past three years are able to fund their operations.

His answer: funding is supplied by a chain of Thai restaurants in Malaysia known as the Tom Yum Kung network, named for a spicy Thai shrimp soup. The restaurants, according to Surayud, donate money to the militants. Additional funds come from the extortion of local businessmen in the deep south of Thailand itself.

An official of the Malaysian embassy in Bangkok, who asked not to be identified, said Surayud's claim was baseless.

The perpetrators of bombings, beheadings and drive-by shootings in Thailand's South have so far not made any demands or identified their aims. Nevertheless, they are thought to be campaigning for the largely Muslim southern provinces to be separated from Thailand, and rejoined with neighboring Malaysia, or reconstituted as an independent sultanate. The region was annexed by Thailand a century ago.

Surayud has made ending the violence a priority. He has apologized for the hard-line tactics used in the largely Malay-speaking region by his elected predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown by the Thai military in September, and says he is willing to talk to the militants.

So far, the only response from Muslim militants has been to step up the wave of violence.

In the past, the government has dealt with separatist leaders who are now based in Malaysia, but they do not appear to be involved in the current insurgency.

Sources say Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian terrorist network affiliated with Al Qaeda, may have infiltrated southern Thailand.

China Stepping Up Protection Payments in Nigeria

Sources say China is stepping up protection payments to Nigerian militants, criminal gangs--and politicians--linked to kidnappings of foreign oil workers in the wake of a bloody rescue attempt aimed at freeing seven hostages.

China has major investments in Nigeria's energy industry. Except for a suspicious car bombing, Chinese targets have been untouched by violence in the African nation.

A British oil worker was killed and an Italian seriously wounded during the hostage rescue attempt. The remaining five foreign hostages were rescued unharmed. Two militants were killed.

The hostages, from Finland, Italy, the Philippines, Poland, Romania and the UK, worked for Italian firm Eni.

Hostages are usually freed unharmed after substantial ransoms are paid.

Oil workers are regularly abducted in Nigeria by gangs saying they want a bigger share of oil revenues. Many politicians are suspected of aiding and protecting the kidnappers--and profiting from their criminal activities.

The attacks in Nigeria's main oil-producing region, the Niger Delta, have reduced crude output by more than 25 percent this year.

Nigeria is one of the world's most notoriously corrupt countries. Many politicians, for example, have been linked in the past to the infamous "419" confidence scheme (a variation on an old scam) that has bilked victims out of billons of dollars in recent decades.

Hu to India: China Seeks Stability in South Asia

Chinese President Hu Jintao told India today that China wants to play a constructive role in promoting stability in the South Asian region.

Hu addressed diplomats and senior Indian politicians in New Delhi a day after he and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed to expand economic and political ties between the world's two most populous countries.

Hu said peace in South Asia will be beneficial for the region, and he welcomed the recent improvement in relations between India and Pakistan. The longtime rivals embarked on a peace process three years ago.

Said Hu: "China welcomes political stability and economic prosperity in South Asia and harmonious coexistence and common development of countries in the region. It also welcomes and supports improved relations between India and Pakistan. China does not seek any selfish gains in South Asia, and stands ready to play a constructive role in promoting peace and development in the subcontinent."

The Chinese leader is trying to calm Indian suspicions about Beijing's close economic and military links with Pakistan, a source of friction between India and China for many years. He also wants to allay apprehensions in New Delhi that China is a competitor for power and influence in the region.

In recent years, Beijing has built close military ties with two more of India's neighbors, Burma and Bangladesh, triggering some concern here.

But Hu said he came to New Delhi to "enhance mutual trust," seeking to chart a new course for future relations between the two countries.

During the current visit, the two leaders have tried to bridge political mistrust, and to stress that there is enough space for both Asian giants to develop.

A joint declaration issued Tuesday stated that they are "not rivals or competitors, but are partners for mutual benefit." There has been little emphasis during the visit on the border dispute that still divides the two.

Hu said that the growing economic and strategic ties augur well for the two countries, whose combined population of nearly 2.5 billion accounts for one-third of humanity.

He is scheduled to attend an India-China economic summit on Thursday, before traveling on to Islamabad.

SEPA Says Water, Air Pollution Increased in 2006

China's State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA) says the amount of pollution discharged into the country's air, rivers and lakes has increased in the first half of this year.

SEPA says China produced 12 billion tons of industrial wastewater in the first six months of this year. This represents a 2.4 percent increase from the same period last year.

A major index of water pollution, known as chemical oxygen demand, increased by 3.7 percent. And emissions of sulfur dioxide, a gas emission caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels, went up more than 4 percent.

The environmental agency says there is a direct link between the growing volume of pollution and the country's booming economy. China's gross domestic product grew by almost 11 percent in the first six months of this year.

SEPA criticized local governments for what it calls their half-hearted attempts to deal with pollution.

A leading, local environmental activist says he is encouraged by the report, explaining that only two years ago, SEPA would not have been able to publish its critical assessment.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Nepal PM, Maoist Leader Sign Peace Pact

After a decade-long insurgency that resulted in more than 13,000 deaths, tiny Nepal may finally be heading for peace.

As expected, Nepal's Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist rebel leader Prachanda signed a peace pact late Tuesday amid cheering by officials and foreign diplomats at a packed convention hall in Kathmandu.

The agreement caps a peace process that began in April after political parties and rebels cooperated in a campaign to end authoritarian rule by the country's monarch.

Under the terms of the accord, the rebels are to end their "people's war," enter a temporary parliament and join an interim government by December 1. This interim administration will oversee elections scheduled to be held next year to choose a body that will draw up a new constitution for the country.

Battle-hardened Maoist leaders, who plan to take part in those elections, are promising a peaceful transformation in a country that witnessed almost daily violence while the insurgency raged.

The editor of Samay magazine in Katmandu, Yuvraj Ghimire, says there is widespread optimism that the pact will end the violence in the tiny Himalayan nation, but says success hinges on implementation.

"With effective monitoring and mechanisms to ensure that both sides stick to what they have said, what they have pledged, yes this triggers much of hope," Ghimire said.

Even before the pact was signed, thousands of rebel fighters had begun heading toward camps where they will be confined until the elections. Rebel weapons are being locked up under United Nations supervision although the insurgents will retain the key. In return much of the state army will also remain in barracks.

Rebel leaders want their fighters to be eventually absorbed into the national army.

But building a new Nepal will not be easy. Allegations of human rights abuses continue to be leveled against the guerrillas. For example, rights groups Monday accused the rebels of continuing to forcibly recruit people into their camps, a charge they deny.

China and India Promise to Double Trade by 2010

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged Tuesday to double trade between their two countries to $40 billion by 2010 and to strengthen bilateral relations that have been hampered by their rivalry as rising Asian giants and festering issues dating to a 1962 border war.

The two leaders spoke with glowing optimism following their summit meeting in New Delhi.

Hu said there is enough room for the emerging powers to develop simultaneously, adding that their relationship is of "global significance."

"As China and India are two friends and cooperation partners, our two countries need to carry forward our friendship in the long run, work hand-in-hand for cooperation and common development and work together to promote peace and development in Asia and the world at large," the Chinese president said.

Trade, which is booming between the world's two fastest growing economies, will remain a cornerstone of that relationship. Singh said India and China have pledged to double trade by 2010.

"President Hu and I have agreed that comprehensive economic and commercial engagement between India and China will receive our urgent and particular attention," Singh said. "We will endeavor to raise the volume of bilateral trade to US dollars 40 billion by 2010 and encourage two-way investment flows."

Hu is the first Chinese president to visit India in decade.

The two leaders also addressed political issues that have left lingering tensions in relations between China and India since their 1962 border war. Both leaders said efforts will be made quickly to resolve the remaining boundary dispute that more than two decades of talks have failed to end.

But Hu and Singh reportedly signed 13 agreements, ranging from opening new consulates, to cooperation in science and technology, and increasing cultural exchanges.

The Chinese leader will also visit Agra and travel to the financial hub of Mumbai before departing for Islamabad on Thursday.

Groups of Tibetans held scattered protests in New Delhi for a second day on Tuesday, although police ensured they remained far away from the visiting Chinese leader.

The protesters are demanding independence or autonomy for Tibet, which China controls. India is home to the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet's Buddhists, and a community of 120,000 Tibetans.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Nepal Probe: Punish King for Abuse of Power

In a landmark probe, a government commission in Nepal has found the country's monarch, King Gyanendra, responsible for excesses against pro-democracy demonstrators, and has recommended that he be punished. It is the first time in the history of Nepal--where the monarch has traditionally been revered as the incarnation of a Hindu god--that a ruler has been held accountable for his actions.

The report by an official panel blames the king for a bloody crackdown against thousands of protestors who packed the streets of Kathmandu in April demanding that he restore democratic freedoms he had revoked in 2005.

About 20 people died and thousands were injured in the anti-government protests. The campaign forced the king to give up direct rule and reinstate parliament.

The investigation into misuse of power and human rights abuses during the king's 15-month rule began after an interim government stripped the monarch of most of his powers.

The government will have to enact new laws to prosecute the king, because the monarch's actions are not subject to scrutiny under the current Nepalese constitution.

For the embattled king, the new report is more bad news. He already faces an uncertain future: Nepal will decide next year whether to retain the monarchy when a new constitution is written.

Many in the country, including Maoist rebels who are expected to sign a peace deal with the government, have demanded the abolition of the monarchy. Nepal's multi-party government and the rebels said they were hoping to sign a comprehensive peace accord on Tuesday, including a declaration of a permanent ceasefire in a decade-old civil war which has killed thousands.

Maoist leader Prachanda told Indian television during a recent visit to New Delhi that Nepal's king should face justice for his past crimes. He also warned the monarch not to impede the peace process that seeks to end the bloody decade-long insurgency and draw the rebels into the government.

"If the king will follow the verdict of the masses and he will not sabotage this peace process and election of the constituent assembly, then we can give a chance to him to become a common citizen, but if he tries to sabotage the process, then our people will not allow him to go unpunished," Prachanda said.

Officials say the prime minister has promised to take action against those named in the report.

Meanwhile, the United States has denounced the continued forced recruitment by Nepal's Maoist rebels. In a statement, US embassy officials in Kathmandu Monday urged the rebels to immediately end the practice.

Local human rights groups say at least 2,500 people have been forced into the Maoist army in recent weeks, including many children.

The rebels have denied stepping up recruitment.

Kofi Annan Urges Global Fight Against Bioterrorism

Kofi Annan is seriously concerned about North Korean and Iranian germ warfare programs. This, sources say, is the real reason the outgoing United Nations Secretary General urged delegates at a review conference on the Biological Weapons Convention to put aside differences and work to strengthen safeguards against bioterrorism.

"I encourage you to explore them, and not to return to the confrontational approaches of the past," said Kofi Annan. "Far more unites you than divides you. The horror of biological weapons is shared by all. As the convention states, their use would be repugnant to the conscience of mankind."

Annan said that, in the past five years, since the last review conference, global circumstances have changed, and risks have grown. He said there is a strong focus on preventing terrorism today, as well as renewed concern about naturally occurring diseases, such as SARS or avian flu, being used as a terrorist weapon.

"These changes mean that we can no longer view the convention in isolation, as simply a treaty prohibiting states from obtaining biological weapons," Annan said. "But we must also address terrorism and crime at the non-state and individual levels, with responses encompassing public health, disaster relief and efforts to ensure that the peaceful uses of biological science and technology can safely reach their potential."

The convention bans the development and stockpiling of germ-based weapons. But it has never had serious enforcement measures, because the threat of biological warfare was believed to be minimal when it was drafted during the height of the Cold War.

Efforts to strengthen the treaty gained momentum amid concerns that Iraq might use biological weapons during the Gulf War. Talks were suspended in 2001, when the the United States said a proposed enforcement regime could not be verified.

The head of the US delegation, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John Rood, said the measures Washington rejected five years ago would not have been effective in detecting biological weapons.

"We have not, in our analysis, seen a way to develop the sort of guaranteed verification measures you cited," Rood said. "I think that is an area reasonable people can continue to study. But, at present, we do not see a regime that would be effective in that area."

Rood said the US wants greater disease surveillance and better controls over material and technology, so they are not misused for bio-weapons. He said national enforcement of legislation is important, and there must be more oversight on research to prevent this work from being misused to make bioweapons.

North Korea Condemns UN Human Rights Measure

North Korea has harshly condemned last week's United Nations resolution accusing the Communist state of human rights abuses.

The UN human rights committee overwhelmingly passed the resolution Friday. It cites a wide range of alleged rights abuses by Pyongyang, including torture, arbitrary imprisonment and forced labor. The resolution is expected to be backed by the broader UN General Assembly next month.

In a broadcast Monday by the official North Korean news agency, Pyongyang said it "categorically rejects" the resolution, describing it as a "political plot" against the North.

Conditions in North Korea have created a verifiable flood of refugees, who cross by the thousands into China, attempting to escape persecution and near-famine conditions caused by economic mismanagement.

The United States estimates there are between 20,000 and 30,000 North Koreans in China trying to make their way to asylum in a third country, mostly in South Korea. Private aid groups put the estimate much higher, at 100,000 to 150,000.

Some human rights activists say the Chinese government estimates the number at 400,000.

The Chinese have taken steps indicating they expect the flow of North Korean refugees to increase. In addition to building barbed wire fences at key border crossing areas, Beijing is investing in high-tech surveillance, including an apparently centrally controlled network of state-of-the-art cameras equipped with motion sensors.

Under a treaty with Pyongyang, China is obliged to repatriate North Koreans, who often face harsh punishment for leaving without permission. However, there are signs Beijing may be slowing down repatriations of refugees since last month's first-ever nuclear test by the secretive Stalinist state.

Anti-Chinese Feelings Fuel Tonga Riots

Tonga's international airport reopened Monday thanks to the presence of 150 New Zealand and Australian troops, deployed to secure key infrastructure following violent protests.

The Tonga government is also discussing with Australia and New Zealand additional military support after last week's riots in the capital, Nuku'alofa, which ended in the looting and burning of the main business district.

Social and political problems across the South Pacific have become permanent headaches for New Zealand and Australia, the region's two most powerful countries.

Along with the violence in Tonga, there have been threats of a military coup in Fiji and continued unrest in the Solomon Islands, parts of Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark is worried that unstable Pacific countries could be exploited by criminals and extremists.

"Everyone is aware of what 'fragile and failed states' mean in today's world. It can mean penetration of financial systems, lax borders, drug trade, financing terrorism or other activities," she said.

International criminal gangs are reported to have laundered billions of dollars on the tiny island state of Nauru in the past decade, and the United States has accused the island state of selling large numbers of fake passports.

The Tonga riots erupted after pro-democracy groups accused the legislature of failing to move on expanding democracy in the kingdom.

The relative prosperity of some immigrants in impoverished South Pacific nations has also stirred resentment.

Police in Tonga believe there was a strong anti-Chinese dimension to Thursday's disturbances.

There were similar problems for the Chinese community in the Solomon Islands when trouble flared there earlier this year. Many Chinese shops were destroyed by rioters in the capital Honiara.

The Chinese government was planning Monday to airlift dozens of its citizens out of Tonga after looters and arsonists targeted their shops and businesses.

New Rules for Foreign Banks in China

China has introduced revised rules for foreign banks. The regulations require banks to set up locally incorporated operations with capital of at least $127 million if they want to conduct retail business in the local currency, the yuan.

Currently, foreign banks can only carry out yuan-denominated business with Chinese companies, not individuals. From next month, they will also be able to offer services to Chinese consumers.

The new rules will take effect December 11, when China has to fully open its banking sector to foreign competition to fulfill its World Trade Organization obligations.

Comment: Indonesia and Saudi Arabia

US President George Bush can thank Saudi Arabia for the outpouring of protest that marred his visit to Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, where the religion Islam and the clerical fascist political ideology known as Islamism are rapidly becoming synonymous--and Islamist terrorists threaten to create yet another "allah-ocracy," as a key cleric has boasted.

Saudi petrodollars have fueled the country's terrifying transformation from moderate Islam to Islamism.

The main Muslim organizations in Indonesia have embraced Wahhibism--Saudi Arabia's hate-filled, fanatic brand of Islam--as a result of Saudi financial aid.

Largely ignored by mainstream media, Indonesia is a striking example of Saudi Arabia's policy of exporting extremism and holy war in order to maintain power at home.

The Saudis' bargain with the devil dates to the beginning of 1979. In January, the modernizing, pro-Western Shah of Iran, a longtime ally of the United States (and covert ally of Israel), was toppled and forced into exile by a Shiite Islamist-controlled coalition led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In February, about 1,000 Saudi militants seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The government had to import French commandos to end the affair. The perpetrators were all killed or captured; the young leader, a scion of a respected Saudi family, was beheaded.

The two events shook the kingdom to its foundations. The corrupt, dysfunctional royal family felt threatened like never before. In order to stay in business--Saudi Arabia, at the end of the day, is a family business, not a country--the kingdom's rulers encouraged Wahabbi clerics to look outside their borders for converts and opportunity.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

US Seeks to Control, Not Disarm North Korea

What China wants, China gets?

For all the huffing and puffing by the Bush administration following North Korea's provocative nuclear and missile tests, there is increasing evidence that the United States has actually softened its stance toward China's rogue vassal. More specifically, it seems the US could agree to (continue to) live with a nuclear armed North Korea as long as it stops developing nuclear weapons and resists the temptation to proliferate--i.e. peddle bombs, technology, and know-how for desperately needed cash. In other words, the red lines regarding North Korea have shifted: Washington is aiming for nuclear arms control, not nuclear disarmament of the secretive Stalinist state.

As if to confirm the analysis, US President George Bush warned Saturday that his administration and its allies will not tolerate transfers of nuclear technology by North Korea to hostile regimes and terrorist groups. In his weekly radio address, Bush said he intended to continue to cooperate on the North Korean nuclear issue with his counterparts in China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

Said Bush: "In my meetings with leaders in the region, we discussed the threat of proliferation from North Korea. After North Korea's recent nuclear test, the United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea's regime, and America is working with our partners to enforce those sanctions.

"We will also continue working with Japan, China, South Korea and Russia through the six-party talks."

The president added "our nations are speaking with one voice: North Korea must abandon its nuclear weapons programs, and we will not tolerate North Korea's proliferation of nuclear technology to hostile regimes and terrorist networks."

Analysts agree that the watered down sanctions (thanks to Chinese and Russian efforts) and lack of political will for a naval blockade of the north or interdictions and inspections at sea of all ships entering or leaving North Korea have little chance of preventing Pyongyang from proliferating.

Key question: do the shifting red lines have any relevance for the standoff with nuclearizing Islamist Iran? Unlike North Korea, the clerical fascist-style regime in Tehran has yet to develop nuclear weapons; and there is considerable debate about how close it is to achieving its goal. Should Iran succeed in playing for time long enough to make a bomb, would the US insist on disarmament or merely a halt in further development?

Time ... which is working in Iran's favor ... will tell.

Indonesian Islamist Terror Threatens Bush Visit

The Islamist threat to Indonesia--the world's most populous Muslim nation--is much more serious than observers have been led to believe.

This is the backdrop to the surprisingly candid comments by the chief of Indonesia's intelligence agency on Saturday. Sayamsir Siregar told reporters that terrorist attacks could mar the upcoming visit of US President George Bush. [UPDATE: Jakarta's police chief, Major General Adang Firman, told reporters the threat of an attack by Al Qaeda-linked terrorists had "escalated sharply" in recent days.]

The president is scheduled to visit Indonesia for a few hours on Monday, November 20, for a meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, considered a regional ally in the US war against Islamist terror.

Some 20,000 troops and police are expected to be mobilized for the occasion.

The intelligence chief told reporters incidents are possible because Islamic militants remain at large.

Indonesia has arrested hundreds of suspected militants since a bombing on the resort island of Bali in October 2005 killed 202 people four years ago.

The US has praised the government's response and lifted restrictions on military sales to Jakarta.

But our sources say the arrests are like applying a tiny bandage to a gaping wound. Indonesia could erupt in Islamist violence at any time, they assert. The government is described by these analysts as weak and ineffective--and thoroughly infiltrated by active Islamist sympathizers. At best, government officials have largely ignored the growing Islamist influence within their country's borders.

The image of so-called soft Islam, removed from the extremism of the Middle East, is dangerously misleading, these experts say. Indonesia is actually shifting from moderate Islam to Islamism.

Indonesian leaders have sharply criticized America's war in Iraq and regularly criticize Washington for being too pro-Israel. Indonesia does not recognize the Jewish state.

More Armed Police Move Into Dongzhou Village

Radio Free Asia repoorted Saturday that more armed police have moved into Dongzhou village--scene of a bloody protest less than a year ago--near the southern Chinese port of Shanwei, eight days after residents seized eight officials to demand the release of a local activist.

RFA said the village, in Gunagdong province, was largely shuttered with up to 1,000 armed police on guard. Schools, shops, and offices were mostly closed, they said, describing the area as extremely tense.

Pramilitary forces shot and killed at least three people in Dongzhou in December 2005. The villagers were protesting what they said was inadequate compensation for land used to build a power station.

Over the past few years, China has seen increasing unrest, largely concentrated in the wealthier industrialized east, not in the poorer, western regions.

In the east, China's poor live face-to-face with those who benefit from the country's economic boom. Nowhere is this clearer than in Guangdong, the richest of China's provinces, which has seen some of the more violent clashes over the past year.

VOA correspondent Luis Ramirez recently traveled to another village in Guangdong that was the scene of a confrontation. His report follows.

AOSHI, Guangdong province .... Villagers say crews working on behalf of developers or local authorities dumped debris on confiscated fields to prevent farmers from planting on them

A group of angry and desperate villagers in the tiny village of Aoshi near Guangdong province's Yunfu city lead a reporter to fields littered with broken granite and other construction debris. It was dumped deliberately to ruin the land and make it impossible for villagers to farm there again.

The villagers complain the local authorities, in a deal with developers, seized the land, leaving farmers with nowhere to grow crops to sustain their families.

They find themselves impoverished in the country's richest province, even as China's economy booms.

A 51-year-old man says he had to borrow money to live.

"Before the government took our land, our life was very good," he says. "My wife was growing vegetables, raising pigs and growing rice. We did not have to buy anything. Now, we have to buy everything. Now, we have to borrow money to get by. We do some odd jobs, if there are any."

It is a story repeated thousands of times in China since the country began its economic reforms almost 30 years ago. Experts say local officials across the country have forced tens of thousands of farmers off their land to make way for factories, shopping malls and even golf courses. If compensation is paid, it usually is not enough to buy new homes and with no land, peasants sink further into poverty, or migrate to cities in hope of jobs.

Video footage secretly taken the day authorities seized the land shows bulldozers plowing through crops as helpless villagers looked on. Security agents shown in the video were heavily armed. It was clear the police anticipated violence.

This 60-year-old villager says agents far outnumbered villagers. She says no one could stand up to them.

"The police knocked on the doors of all the villagers," she says. "They brought handcuffs and guns with them to threaten u. I was so scared that I did not dare to go outside to use the communal toilet. They said that if we left our houses, they would arrest us."

Many villagers refused the compensation local officials offered, saying their land is not for sale and especially not for the low price of about $3500 that the developer offered for each plot.

The farmers say the former village chief who made the deal with developers for the land has retaliated by sending thugs to threaten--and in some cases beat--those who protested the seizure.

The number of people in the room swells from six to more than 20 in just a few moments, with everyone trying to vent their anger.

With no money for medical care, villagers say the sick are dying. This man lost three relatives last year.

"Two got diabetes and one had breast cancer," he says. "My aunt had diabetes and fell down and broke her leg and she had to lie in bed for a year. She did not have any money to see a doctor, and finally died."

Not being able to meet family obligations has caused some to despair. The man speaks of a friend who was driven to suicide.

"He had no income and could not afford to pay the school fees of his two children," he says. "He climbed up to touch some power lines and electrocuted himself."

In the days following the land seizures, the 60-year-old woman petitioned local officials and threatened to take her case to Beijing. The officials threw her in jail for 12 days.

"When I was in jail, the officers asked me: 'now, do you still want to go to Beijing? I said, 'even if I do not go, others will.' We have nothing but anger and hatred toward the local government," she says.

As in other cases of unrest in China, local authorities in Aoshi resorted to two tactics to put down uprisings: overwhelming force and propaganda.

The propaganda led many to believe that the central government, which has promised to improve life in the impoverished countryside, has the best interests of peasants in mind. They say faith in this promise has prevented people from speaking out against the central authorities and avoided widespread escalation of violence in the countryside.

This man is one who thinks the government in Beijing is trying to help rural residents, but has doubts about the local authorities.

"I think all the laws and regulations made by the central government are fairly good," he says. " However, as the old Chinese saying goes, the mountains are high and the emperor is far away. The local officials only care about filling their own pockets and don't care about our livelihood. In China, what we lack mainly is a monitoring system."

Some foreign observers have said one way to avoid unjust land seizures would be to allow peasants to once again own the land, a practice not seen in China since the Communist Party collectivized farms in the 1950s. Others say it would be better to order authorities to pay a fair market price when they seize land for public projects.

New auto dealership built on former farmland reminds some villagers of a prosperity they do not enjoy
Villagers at Aoshi village complain their land was taken not for the public good, but for the good of a few, well-connected officials and business owners. One man points to a bright new auto dealership sitting on his old field. For him, it is a cruel reminder of the new prosperity of which he has no part.

"Wherever you go, people say life in Guangdong is great. But the fact is our area is a place that has been forgotten by others in Guangdong," he says. "Our life is very hard. If you can't find a job, all you can do is wait for death."

Western analysts have warned that rising income inequality could cause massive social problems in China, especially in places such as Guangdong where the destitute live next to the new ultra-rich.

The province has seen some of the most violent uprisings reported in the country over the past year. In some, government agents opened fire and killed demonstrators. Villagers at Aoshi know this has happened at other places and say they remain committed to finding a peaceful solution. They hope international attention will help.

But their anger is growing. In a burst of rage, a group takes a reporter to see the former village leader's home--a three-story house whose bright red and white tiles contrast sharply with the more modest dwellings next to it. One young man angrily points to the house.

He says there used to be a large pond where people fished. The man says the village chief took the land and built himself a large home on it. "They have cars," he says, while none of the villagers do. He says the village chief is rich, but the man says that wealth is built on "our blood and sweat."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Seoul Backs UN Resolution on NK Human Rights

Another first: South Korea on Friday supported a United Nations resolution criticizing North Korea's horrific human rights record.

Pyongyang's representative rejected the measure, calling it a "political plot".

The UN committee dealing with human rights issues sharply rebuked North Korea. Ninety-one of the world body's 192 member states approved a resolution expressing serious concern at Pyongyang's use of torture, public executions and other grave human rights violations.

Twenty-one countries voted against the measure, including Sudan, Belarus, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Indonesia, and Egypt--the second largest recipient of United States foreign aid after Israel. Sixty nations abstained.

South Korea, which has previously abstained on measures criticizing the north, voted with the majority. Seoul has taken a tougher stance against its northern neighbor since Pyongyang conducted missile tests in July and tested a nuclear device last month.

South Korean UN envoy Choi Young-jin called on Pyongyang to take "practical steps" to improve its human rights record. But the ambassador said Seoul would continue its policy of reconciliation and cooperation with the North.

North Korea's deputy UN ambassador, Kim Chang Guk, reacted sharply to the vote, describing the resolution as a US "political plot" and a violation of North Korean sovereignty.

"The delegation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea resolutely opposes and rejects the anti-DPRK draft resolution, sponsored by the EU, regarding it as a product of a political plot of the United States and satellites as an illegal document to debase the sacred sovereignty of Democratic People's Republic of Korea," Kim said.

US and European diplomats rejected the North Korean charges. One European envoy called the allegations "ridiculous."

A day before the vote, three internationally respected human rights advocates--Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel, former Norwegian prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former Czech President Vaclav Havel--appeared at UN headquarters to urge a strong condemnation of North Korea's human rights abuses.

Wiesel said he and the others had come to sound an alarm, and send a message of hope to North Korea's people.

"If we are here for North Korea, it is because we believe North Korea today needs our help, needs the help of the UN, needs at least the very idea that they are not alone, that we are here to hear their cry," he said. "And we will help them."

Adoption of the resolution--which has no legal force--is tantamount to approval by the full General Assembly, as the committee includes all 192 UN member states.

Blix Warns North Korea Can't be Trusted

Any international agreement with North Korea about its nuclear weapons must include a solid verification scheme, according to former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

Visiting Tokyo, Blix said negotiating an agreement without total verification could result in "very unpleasant surprises," because the world could be lulled into a false state of confidence.

He told reporters Friday that North Korea has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to abide by agreements on paper, thus on-site verifications are vital for any workable accord.

But the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged it will be "a hard nut to crack" to convince Pyongyang to allow inspections in a country he says has traditionally been hermetically sealed.

North Korea, after boycotting talks for more than one year, has agreed to return to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, but no date has been set. The secretive Stalinist state conducted its first-ever nuclear test on October 9.

Comparing North Korea to Iran, Blix called North Korea an acute case requiring urgent negotiations.

Quoting CIA estimates, Blix said Iran appears to be five to 10 years away from producing a viable atomic weapon.

Said Blix: "I'm sure that Iran watches very carefully what is happening in the Korean case, and if North Korea continues intransigence, then the Iranians might, perhaps, also tell themselves [to] stand fast and just go on, and eventually they might be forgotten."

Blix added that it would be a mistake for Tehran to take that attitude.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

US Report Critical of Chinese Policies

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, commonly known as the China Commission, issued its fifth annual report Thursday. The report recognizes China as a global actor, but criticizes it for not living up to its expanding responsibilities as a growing economic and military power.

Commission chairman Larry Wortzel, a long-time China expert, said the 44 recommendations made to the US Congress deal with a wide range of issues. These include China's accumulation of $1 trillion worth of foreign currency reserves, expanding Chinese naval capabilities, and Beijing's lack of cooperation in securing an effective United Nations resolution on Sudan over the conflict in Darfur.

Wortzel says the panel has expectations of China, but so far Beijing shows no signs of meeting them.

"The commission hopes that China will use its position on the United Nations Security Council and its growing influence in Asia and Africa and elsewhere to address a range of serious problems, including the threats of terrorism, weapons proliferation and ethnic conflict," he said. "But it hasn't really happened yet."

Another issue is US criticism that China does not adequately protect US intellectual property rights, on goods like videos or name brand clothing, in China.

US customs officials have so far this year seized more than $150 million worth of pirated goods, most of it coming from China. Commission co-chairman Carolyn Bartholomew said copyright piracy of American goods is rampant in China.

"Entire towns [in China] can depend on the revenue generated by counterfeiting," she said. "The Chinese government has failed to control such violations and typically prefers administrative fines, rather than the more effective avenue of criminal prosecutions."

The commission also touched upon North Korea's nuclear program, the growing Chinese military threat toward Taiwan and concerns over Beijing's restrictions on Chinese Internet users.

Some of the commission's recommendations are the same as last year, and Wortzel refused to list them in order of priority. But he repeated accusations that China manipulates its currency exchange rate to gain unfair export advantage.

He added that this time, the commission assessed US-China trade ties in terms of what expectations American leaders had when President Clinton signed legislation granting China permanent normal trade relations in 2000.

The US move paved the way for China to join the World Trade Organization five years ago, in December 2001. Bartholomew says China has made progress on writing internal legislation to comply with some of its WTO agreements, but is falling far short in implementing new laws and adequately enforcing the ones already on its books.

In Asia, Bush Focuses on Free Trade, North Korea

In a speech kicking off a three-nation visit to Southeast Asia, US President George Bush focused on promoting free trade and dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat.

The speech at the National University of Singapore set the tone for the president's trip.

"In this new century, America will remain engaged in Asia because our interests depend on the expansion of freedom and opportunity in this region," Bush said.

Bush spoke at length about the power of trade to boost economies. He urged the nations attending this week's Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam to help get the current round of global trade talks back on track.

He also addressed the notion of a Pacific Rim free trade zone.

"Recently, some APEC members have advanced the idea of a free trade agreement for the entire APEC region. I believe this idea deserves serious consideration," Bush said.

he made no mention of the changes taking place in the US Congressm where Democrats, including some who have challenged his trade policies, are preparing to take control of both chambers. But he did refer generally to opponents of free trade.

"We hear voices calling on us to retreat from the world and close our doors to its opportunities," Bush said. "These are the old temptations of isolationism and protectionism. And America must reject them."

Asian leaders are also watching to see what, if any, affect the US election results may have on US security policy in the region. Bush said the US remains committed to regional security, and he talked tough about the challenge posed by North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The president said the risk of North Korean nuclear arms ending up in the wrong hands is the biggest proliferation threat facing the Asia-Pacific region. He urged North Korea to prove its good faith by taking what he called "a peaceful path" to defuse the crisis.

"Pyongyang must show it is serious by taking concrete steps to implement its agreement to give up its nuclear weapons and weapons programs," he said.

Bush plans to meet on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Hanoi with the leaders of all the other countries involved in the six-party talks with North Korea: South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

He is scheduled to travel to Hanoi Friday for the APEC summit, before heading to Indonesia on Monday.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Editorial: End the Iranian Regime Before it Ends Us

A new Hitler is rising--this time, with Chinese and Russian help.

His name is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and he heads a clerical-fascist-style regime in Islamist Iran that is fast becoming the world's most dangerous power. Like Hitler, Ahmadinejad has made his intentions clear. In his case, these include destroying Israel and dominating the Middle East--for starters.

Unlike Hitler, who wrote and spoke about world conquest and a 1,000-year Reich, Iran's Shiite monster-in-chief has held back his true, imperialist intentions: to use deliverable nuclear weapons and terrorist proxies and allies--including Shiite Hezbollah and Sunni Al Qaeda--to change the power relations among all nations for all time. If allowed to develop nuclear bombs and warheads, he will not hesitate to overtly threaten and covertly attack Europe on behalf of allegedly oppressed Muslim minorities.

But his real target, as former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week, is the United States. Following the teachings of the late, hate-filled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and, astonishingly, even more extreme Iranian Islamist thinkers, who stand ready to sacrifice millions of lives to hasten the return of the Shiite messiah, Ahmadinejad is by all accounts committed to destroying the "Great Satan."

Ahmadinejad must be stopped--by any and all necessary means--before it is too late to stop him. Not for nothing does he boast that time works in his favor.

Thanks to China and Russia, and European as well as American advocates of appeasement, the nuclearizing next Hitler has been able to buy the time he needs to build his bombs and improve his missiles.

His foreign flagged, missile-launching, civilian cargo ships are already a formidable threat: undetected, they can approach US coastal cities and get within firing range of major metropolitan areas.

In short, the time has come to end the Iranian regime ... before it ends us.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bush Will Raise Tibet Issue With Hu Jintao

US President George Bush will discuss the issue of Tibet and the Dalai Lama with Chinese President Hu Jintao, when the two leaders meet for a summit later this week, according to a White House official.

A senior administration official, who asked not to be identified, told reporters the president believes very strongly that there needs to be a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and China to resolve the long-standing issue of Tibetan independence.

Bush left WashingtonTuesday for a weeklong trip to Asia. His stops include Vietnam, where he will participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit along with Hu.

China has occupied Tibet since 1951. Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, settled in Dharamsala, northern India, in 1959 following an unsuccessful uprising against Chinese rule in his homeland.

Ahead of Bush Visit, US State Department Removes Vietnam from List of Violators of Religious Freedom

The United States State Department Monday removed Vietnam from a list of countries where serious violations of religious freedom are said to occur.

Uzbekistan was added to the list, which also includes Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

The decision removing Vietnam from the US list of "countries of particular concern" with regard to religious freedom came on the eve of President Bush's departure on an Asian trip that includes a Vietnam visit.

But the State Department's Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford told reporters the decision had been made weeks ago, and the announcement was delayed until Monday only because of bureaucratic requirements related to adding Uzbekistan to the list.

At a news conference Hanford paid tribute to what he said was wide-ranging action by the Hanoi government to respond to US concerns raised when Vietnam was put on the list of major violators in 2004.

"When I first traveled to Vietnam there were dozens of individuals imprisoned for their religious beliefs," said John Hanford. "Today, all of those people have been released. Prisoners included Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants and Wahow, some of whom had been in jail for many years."

Hanford said while there are still some problem issues with Vietnam, it has ceased and even outlawed some of the most egregious practices cited in 2004, including forcing thousands of Protestants in the central highlands region to renounce their faith.

He said Vietnam has reopened hundreds of Protestant churches it once shuttered and has, among other things, allowed hundreds of new Protestant and Roman Catholic clergymen to be ordained.

Hanford drew a sharp distinction between the record of Vietnam and that of Uzbekistan, which he said has become a country of particular concern because of harsh repression of some Muslim groups wrongly seen as being linked to political extremism:

"Muslims have long borne the brunt of the government of Uzbekistan's harsh repression," he said. "The government continues to target observant Muslims for arrest, often considering conservative Islamic practice to be evidence of extremism and terrorism."

Hanford said the United States recognizes Uzbekistan faces a legitimate security threat from some groups that have used religion as an excuse for violence, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization.

But he said U.S. officials take issue with what he said was the Uzbek government's use of religious observance to "profile" Muslim believers as extremists, without offering material evidence that they planned or were involved in acts of violence.

As he did when the State Department's annual religious freedom report was issued in September, Hanford credited Saudi Arabia with making some positive commitments to the United States about easing religious curbs.

Those, he said, include pledges to end religious incitement and rid school textbooks of negative references to Christians, Jews and followers of Muslim groups outside the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam.

He said US officials are encouraged by the promises and have seen some improvement already but not enough yet to warrant removing Saudi Arabia from the list of violators.

Similarly Hanford said that Chinese officials have, in response to U.S. concerns, announced the easing of curbs on so-called "home churches" and religious education for children.

However, he said the policies are inconsistently implemented, with arrests of some activists continuing, and that improvements in religious freedom in China cannot be described as systemic.

(VOA)

Monday, November 13, 2006

S. Korea Will Not Uphold UN Sanctions on North

South Korea is refusing to fully uphold United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea following the country's nuclear test.

Deputy Foreign Minister Park In-Kook said Monday Seoul will not join a United States-led initiative to inspect North Korean cargo at sea, as stipulated in the UN sanctions.

Seoul has said it is already taking other measures to control weapons of mass destruction.

South Korea says it does not want to trigger naval clashes with North Korean ships, and has maintained a policy of engagement with Pyongyang since last month's nuclear test.

Under international pressure, North Korea has agreed to return to talks on dismantling its nuclear program. The discussions involve South Korea, China, Japan, the United States and Russia.

Russian ambassador to Japan Alexander Losyukov said in Tokyo Monday the talks could resume as soon as next month.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

US Chip Maker Investing $1 Billion in Vietnam

Is Vietnam "the next China?"

United States-based Intel Corporation, the world's largest computer-chip manufacturer, has announced plans to invest $1 billion dollars in a new plant in Vietnam.

The deal supports the view--popular among hedge fund managers and invstment bankers--that smart money will increasingly flow into Vietnam.

Intel Vice President Brian Krzanich said Friday that, when completed in 2009, the plant will be anywhere from 14,000 to 46,000 square meters and will employ up to 4,000 people. It will be located in an industrial park outside Ho Chi Minh City.

The company, which is headquartered in California, originally announced plans for the plant in February, when it was still slated to be a $300 million project.

Intel's announcement comes the same week the World Trade Organization voted to accept Vietnam as a member, and one week before Hanoi is scheduled to host the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.

Friday, November 10, 2006

China Denies Bird Flu Cover-Up

Chinese officials on Friday expressed anger at any suggestion that Beijing has been covering up the appearance of a new strain of the bird flu virus.

A United States-based journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, last week published a report by American and Hong Kong researchers that said a vaccine-resistant strain--identified as the "Fujian strain"--had been found in poultry outbreaks in southern China. The strain also appeared in Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand, according to the report.

China's top veterinarian, Jia Youling, head of the Veterinary Bureau at the Ministry of Agriculture, strongly disputed the findings to reporters in Beijing Friday.

"There is no such new Fujian-like virus variant at all," said Jia. "It is utterly groundless to assert the outbreak of bird flu in Southeast Asian countries was caused by avian influenza in China."

The World Health Organization's representative in China, Dr. Henk Bekedam, said a much wider study is necessary to know whether a new strain exists.

"The discussion about [what is] new or not new needs to be done by scientists," he said. "This is a very specific, specialized area, and, to come to a conclusion, I really think you need to get all the global experts together, and then to agree if it's new or not."

Dr. Bekedam on Friday said the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture had assured his office it has finally shipped 20 bird flu virus samples from 2004 and 2005 that the WHO has been requesting since last year. He says scientists need to see the samples, so they can watch for virus mutations and start developing new vaccines.

"Today, we are very hopeful" Bekedam said. "Today, those virus [samples] are being shipped. We hope as well tomorrow to start discussing about the viruses, which are also the viruses of 2006 to be shared."

The H5N1 strain of bird flu is currently the dominant virus that first crossed over to humans in 1997 in Hong Kong. It has killed more than 150 people worldwide since then, most of them in Asia. Most, but not all, were infected by contact with animals.

Scientists are worried that the virus may mutate to a strain that can easily jump from human to human, and cause a global pandemic that could kill millions of people.

China's earlier reluctance to hand over the virus samples triggered speculation by some Western researchers. They alleged the Chinese were hoping to get a commercial advantage by being the first to come up with a new vaccine. China denied the allegations.

Dollar Depressed by China Bank Chief Comments

Coincidence?

Three days after the US Congressional elections--and just one day after the Democrats took control of the Senate--China's central bank chief said that the bank is looking to diversify its trillion dollar currency reserves, causing the dollar to hit new two-and-a-half-month lows against the euro and an 18-month low against sterling Friday.

The bulk of the People's Bank of China's reserves are in dollar-denominated assets. So Zhou Xiaochuan's comments were interpreted by currency traders as a sign that China might buy fewer dollars or sell some current dollar holdings.

As we have reported, the Democrats have turned sharply against job-killing globalization policies that have benefitted China at the expense of the US manufacturing sector. China fears that Democratic lawmakers will push long stalled protectionist and punitive measures aimed at pressuring China to end the unfair trade policies, including manipulation of the managed yuan, which have been crucial factors in spurring China's export-driven economic expansion.

Thousands of Villagers Clash with Riot Police

Just two days after a senior government official told a police meeting that the number of protests and riots by discontented Chinese citizens dropped by more than 20 percent in the first nine months of 2006 (scroll down for the story), thousands of Chinese villagers reportedly clashed with riot police after trapping officials and foreign businessmen in a warehouse that they said had been built on illegally seized land.

According to a report in today's edition of the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, the fighting started on Wednesday in the southern province of Guangdong, during the opening of the warehouse, which villagers said had been built on land seized by corrupt officials and sold off to greedy developers.

The tabloid said as many as 10,000 protestors barricaded the warehouse entrance in the village of Sanzhou, trapping 300 assembled dignitaries inside, including Guangdong officials and Hong Kong and foreign businessmen.

Around 1,000 police and riot police arrived to end the standoff, Apple Daily said, but the villagers stood their ground, refusing to leave unless the corrupt officials were investigated.

It was only when police began firing tear gas the following morning that the crowds dispersed. The paper said 10 people were arrested.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chinese Speculate About Baker Replacing Cheney

Chinese journalists are asking their American counterparts if they think Vice President Dick Cheney will resign in the wake of the Democratic takeover of the United States Congress. The Chinese speculate that Cheney will step down for "health reasons" following the departure of US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose designated replacement is former CIA director Robert Gates.

A lightning rod for criticism and controversy, Cheney has clearly been sidelined. The message has quietly gone out to the Washington press corps that the Vice President no longer speaks for the embattled Bush administration, though the President has said that he has no intention of asking him to step down.

Some Chinese reporters and think tank researchers see former US Secretary of State James Baker as a possible Cheney replacement.

The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution provides that "Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress."

Baker, a longtime Bush family friend and political ally, has been appointed by Congress as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, a high-level panel of former officials charged by Congress with essentially saving US policy in the war-torn country. Washington insiders expect Baker (who, at 76, is 11 years older than Cheney) to play a major role in redirecting US foreign policy in general. More specifically, observers predict that Baker, who is regarded as less ideological and more realistic in international affairs, will push the administration to begin bilateral negotiations with nuclear armed North Korea (perhaps in the framework of six-party nuclear disarmament talks), nuclear developing Iran, and Syria, while pressuring for progress on the Lebanese and Palestinian-Israeli issues.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Comment: What the US Elections Mean (Part II)

China may be concerned about the Democratic takeover of the US Congress because of the party's populist leanings (scroll down for the analysis), but Beijing is not sorry to see US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld leave Washington. The outspoken Pentagon chief was arguably the administration's most effective critic of China's opaque military buildup. His designated replacement, former CIA director Robert Gates (l.) is regarded as a less adversarial figure.

Chinese Middle East experts expect Gates to support overtures to Iran and Syria as part of an effort to stabilize Iraq. The experts, including government-run think tank researchers, reason that China's cooperation will be important, and that with Gates at the helm of the US defense department, Washington will be less inclined to focus on the Chinese military.

Comment: What the US Elections Mean for China

The American people proved that their democracy is alive and well yesterday by voting for change in a big way. As of this writing, the Democrats have regained control of the House of Representatives and are also poised to regain control of the Senate, though the results in two states, Virginia and Montana, are still too close to call.

The voters clearly sent President George Bush a message, or, rather, several messages. First and foremost, the election was about the debacle in Iraq: the people want a change of direction, a way out of the quagmire. But other issues, such as rising health care costs and the culture of corruption and cronyism, were also important.

China's Communist Party leaders should take notice. Indirectly, American voters also sent them a message. Americans are fed up with job-destroying globalization policies that have helped hollow out the American economy. With the exception of diehard globalization boosters like former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, the Democrats have turned against free trade, in favor of fair trade. They have finally picked up on and begun to tap into the new populist mood.

That mood is ironically threatening to the party that rules the world's most populist country in the name of socialist principles. In the coming months, rising China will be under increasing pressure from US lawmakers to abandon the unfair trade practices, including manipulation of its managed currency, the yuan, which have been key factors in maintaining China's export-driven economic expansion. [UPDATE: China's politically charged trade surplus surged to a record $23.8 billion in October, despite government efforts to cool down the economy. The swelling surplus raised the likelihood that the US and Europe will intensify demands for yuan appreciation and more market access. European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson this week accused China of keeping the yuan undervalued, ignoring copyrights and protecting local businesses.]

In the area of foreign policy, Chinese Communist Party rulers will have to do more than pay lip service to being a so-called responsible stakeholder in the international system. The American people and their elected representatives--an alien, frightening concept to Chinese officials--are in no mood for funding an adversary. China's support for nuclearizing, Islamist Iran is alarming, as is China's continued sponsorship of nuclear armed North Korea. On the one hand, Beijing seems to have pressured Pyongyang to return to suspended six-party disarmament talks; on the other hand, China was mainly responsible for watering down the United Nations sanctions that were imposed on North Korea following its provocative nuclear bomb test; and Beijing has blocked Washington's efforts to strictly enforce the sanctions via naval blockade and interdictions and inspections at sea of suspect ships.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

China Reports Drop in Rural Riots, Protests

China's official Xinhua news agency today quoted a senior government official as saying the number of protests and riots by discontented Chinese citizens dropped by more than 20 percent in the first nine months of 2006.

Liu Jinguo, who is vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security, reportedly told a police meeting on Monday that Chinese police dealt with 17,900 "mass incidents" from January to September this year- a 22.1 percent reduction in the number of protests, riots, mass petitions and other "mass incidents" in the corresponding months of last year.

China's leaders are in the middle of a carrots-and-sticks social stability campaign in the context of trying to create a more peaceful, "socialist countryside." The carrots: raising the welfare and incomes of China's poor farmers and migrant workers. The sticks: cracking down--hard--on dissidents and disgruntled peasants.

Liu said China is sending more policemen to its rural regions and has built more than 30,000 police stations in the restive areas, which he described as "overall stable."

But China's urbanization poses public security concerns in areas bordering urban and rural regions and in relatively developed countryside, he warned.

Urbanization is accelerating throughout China, with half the 1.3 billion Chinese--a tenth of the world's population-- expected to live in cities by 2010.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Chinese Energy Companies Post Strong Earnings

China's state-run energy companies are posting strong earnings.

China National Offshore Oil Corporation, CNOOC, says its oil wells, both in China and abroad, are producing more crude oil.

CNOOC Chairman Fu Chengyu says rising output, especially from its South China Sea projects, has contributed to greater revenues.

"For the first nine months of 2006, oil and gas revenue increased by 36.4 percent from the same period last year," Fu said.

Profit rose 25 percent to $2.3 billion in the three months ending in September compared to the same period last year.

The Chinese company Sinopec, Asia's biggest oil refiner, says year-on-year profit jumped more than 50 percent, to $1.6 billion , for the three months ending in September. The state-owned company says the increase resulted from strong demand and high oil prices.

In another development in China's energy sector, Malaysia's largest energy company, Petronas, has reached a 25-year deal to supply three million metric tons of liquefied natural gas to Shanghai LNG Company. Petronas says the contract is worth $25 billion at current prices.