Thursday, 5 March 2015

U.S. Defense Still Spending Dwarfs The Rest Of The Globe

from The US continues to hold the indisputable top spot in defence spending, designating more than the combined expenditures of the top 15 nations according to an annual report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The IISS’ Military Balance, published earlier this month, assesses the military capabilities and national trends in defence spending of 171 countries.

According to the report, America allocated a cool $US581 billion in 2014, surpassing the total combined Chinese, Saudi Arabian, Russian, British, French, German, Japanese, Indian, and South Korean military budgets by $US15 billion.

China is the closest nation to follow the US at $US129 billion — which is only 22% of America’s overall spending. The remaining 156 surveyed nations account for $US342 billion or 21% of the world’s defence spending.

China 2015 Defence Budget To Grow 10.1%

from China's national defence budget will grow 10.1 per cent in 2015, the lowest increase in five years, the government said Thursday (Mar 5) as it stressed the ruling Communist Party's "absolute leadership" over the army.

Beijing plans to raise its military spending to 886.9 billion yuan (US$141.4 billion), according to a budget report to be submitted to the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), the Communist-controlled legislature. Last year's increase was 12.2 per cent, official data showed.

China has for years been raising spending on the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in double-digit steps, flexing its military and economic might as it asserts its claims in a series of territorial disputes with Tokyo and others.

China's defence budget saw stated increases of 10.7 per cent in 2013, 11.2 per cent in 2012 and 12.7 per cent in 2011, and this year's rise is the lowest increase since 2010, when according to reports it was 7.5 per cent.

Analysts believe China's actual military spending is significantly higher than publicised, with the Pentagon estimating it at between US$135 billion and US$215 billion in 2012.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Taiwan: Opposition and Environmentalists Oppose Nuclear Waste Plan

from Press TV: Taiwan’s main opposition party has urged the government to halt a controversial plan to process the country’s nuclear waste overseas.

Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vowed on Monday to push for stopping the plan by the state-run Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) that the party says lacks transparency.

“The whole bidding process was not transparent,” DPP legislator, Tien Chiu-chin said, warning that it could become a “money pit” and result in international disputes both environmentally and financially.

The company, which is the authority in charge of providing electric power to Taiwan, started a bidding process to transport and reprocess 1,200 spent fuel rods from two of the country’s three nuclear plants just before the Lunar New Year holidays. The move was seen by critics as a tactic to evade media and public attention.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are concerned that Taipower’s initiative to ship the nuclear waste abroad may pose the threat of a nuclear accident.

China ‘Tigers, Flies’ Hunt Traps Officials

from Press TV: The Chinese president’s anti-graft campaign, known for prowling for corrupt political “tigers” and “flies,” has entrapped seven military officials.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Daily reported on Monday that the country had started probing seven PLA officials.

Those include Guo Zhenggang, son of Guo Boxiong, a former vice chairman of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Military Commission.

Also on Monday, the South China Morning Post reported that at least 16 Chinese major generals had been taken for questioning over corruption cases involving their former superiors.

President Xi Jinping has started a hunt for both heavy-weight and low-profile corrupt officials, pledging to pull no punches in purging the ruling party of them.

He and other leaders have warned that rampant fraud threatens the party’s decades-long sway.

Xi’s anti-graft campaign has ensnared a number of senior figures, including Zhou Yongkang, a former member of China’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

Philippines Suspends Oil and Gas Exploration In Disputed Waters

from A Filipino-British company says the Philippine government has ordered the suspension of all exploration at an offshore oil and gas field because of an ongoing territorial dispute with China.

The oil and gas exploration and production company Forum Energy Plc. says the Department of Energy has instructed it to halt all exploration work in its contracted area at Reed Bank in the South China Sea off the western Philippine province of Palawan.

It said in a statement Monday that the area is subject to a U.N. arbitration case filed by the Philippines over China’s rival claim to the territory.

Forum is majority-owned by Philippine company Philex Petroleum Corp. Philex said last year that the project has not attracted other investors because of concerns about offending China.

Australian Govt. Seeks Input On U.S. Navy Surveillance Drones

from A senior defense procurement official said Australia is looking to enter into an agreement with the US Navy in order to influence future development of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton maritime unmanned aerial system.

In 2014, the coalition government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that it would acquire up to seven MQ-4C air vehicles for the Royal Australian Air Force, with the exact number of platforms and timing to be informed by a coming defense white paper and Defence Capability Plan, due to be released in the middle of this year.

Australia had been a cooperative partner in the design and development phase of the Triton between 2006 and 2009, but this agreement lapsed. A decision on the formal purchase of the MQ-4C is expected in 2016.

Group Capt. Guy Adams, director of unmanned aerial systems for the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), Australia's military procurement agency, said that experience gained through ongoing cooperation with the US Navy on the Boeing P-8A Poseidon program has driven a similar requirement for Triton.

"The RAAF will buy the integrated functional level capability level four Triton, which will be the US Navy standard production version at that time and we are looking at entering into a co-operative development program with the US Navy, so Australia may have the ability to influence the future design and development of the program as it develops," Adams said at the Australian International Airshow at the Avalon Airport.


Japan Mulls SDF Dispatch To EU Troop Missions For First Time

from The Abe administration is considering creating a framework through which Self-Defense Forces personnel would participate in international missions involving European Union troops, under an envisioned permanent law on overseas SDF dispatches, a government source said.

SDF troops would be sent on EU international peace and cooperation operations under a different framework than that for U.N. peacekeeping operations, the source said Tuesday.

The envisioned SDF dispatch is likely to be discussed in a meeting among senior officials of the Foreign and Defense ministries with EU representatives in Tokyo early next week, the source said.

Japanese and EU officials are expected during the talks to sort out legal issues on the scope of SDF operations, as the administration is working out security legislation following a Cabinet decision last July on reworking Japan’s security policy, according to the source.

The move reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stated desire for Japan to make “proactive contributions to peace” and raise its global profile.

In the absence of a permanent law, the government has enacted special laws to authorize the dispatch of SDF personnel for refueling missions to support U.S.-led anti-terrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, and for humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

The permanent law would enable the dispatch of SDF personnel when necessary, a faster process than submitting time-limited, case-specific special legislation to the Diet for approval. Japan has a permanent law on U.N. peacekeeping operations that forms the legal basis for its dispatch of troops.

RELATED: PM Abe avoids controversial security legislation in Diet policy speech

$67 Billion Still Needed In Japan's Disaster-Hit Areas

from A new station building with a striking white roof stands on a rugged piece of land where a large number of construction vehicles are hard at work in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, which was heavily damaged in the tsunami that followed the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Onagawa Station on the JR Ishinomaki Line is the core facility for reconstruction of the town, which will include an onsen hot spring and an art gallery. The town’s mayor, Yoshiaki Suda, 42, calls the station building “the navel of the town.”

Famed architect Shigeru Ban based his design for the roof on the image of a black-tailed gull spreading its wings. The building cost 850 million yen (US$67 billion) to construct.

To commemorate the completion of the station building, the town will hold an event for local residents on March 21.

A promenade stretching about 400 metres from the station to Onagawa Bay is planned, along with shopping areas and housing for earthquake victims that will be built on raised land.

The town government’s conceptual drawing of what the town will look like shows a completely new Tohoku community devoid of any damage caused by the tsunami.

The town government aims to complete the reconstruction work by the end of fiscal 2018. Only about 35 per cent of the work has been completed so far.

The cost of reconstructing the town, which has a population of about 7,000, is expected to exceed 100 billion yen.

This amount is equivalent to 20 years of town government budgets before the 2011 disaster.

The town government aims to use central government’s reconstruction subsidies to finance most of the cost. Under this plan, the central government will effectively shoulder 100 percent of the cost.

However, the subsidies are an exceptional measure approved only during a five-year reconstruction period that ends in fiscal 2015.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Australia's Complicity With Brutal Regime Exposed

from For some time now, the world has been watching Australia drift away from its much-vaunted democratic foundations towards a menacing authoritarianism, where a government routinely treats the rule of law and the right to natural justice as inconvenient obstacles to be cast aside at any given time.

This week, we have seen this dark, disturbing trend exposed to the light through the astonishing attack upon the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, for having the temerity to report truthfully on the irreparable damage successive governments have inflicted upon innocent asylum-seeker children by keeping them locked up for many months and, in some cases, years.

When a government elects to go down this path, it gradually infects everything it does. Indeed, the Abbott Government has become so emboldened by the ideological warriors at its helm that this belief in optional adherence to the law is worn as a badge of honour.

There was not the slightest sign of concern in Government ranks when it was revealed it had probably committed a criminal act in offering an inducement to Professor Triggs while trying to get her to resign. To them, it’s another cost of doing business.

As we’ve so often seen on asylum-seeker policy, any law that obstructs political will is a law to be, first ignored, and then changed. And while Abbott has become a master at it, he already had a pretty good template to polish, given the approach of his predecessors in the Labor Government.

Our signature on global treaties has meant nothing to recent Labor or Coalition governments. When the UN Human Rights Committee found Australia guilty of 146 breaches of international law in 2013 and ordered them to release, compensate and rehabilitate 46, mostly-Tamil, indefinitely-detained refugees, both sides of politics thumbed their noses at the order, not even bothering to reply within the six months’ time frame.

In this context, foreign policy also becomes riven with even more hypocrisy and duplicity than usual. 

Once a government convinces itself it’s okay to ignore international legal responsibilities, it’s all downhill from there.

Friday, 27 February 2015

US “Pivot” Sends Asia Fleeing Toward China

Ulson Gunnar | New Eastern Outlook: When former-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the US “pivot to Asia,” she and the policy wonks who dreamed it up probably imagined it as a well choreographed geopolitical masterstroke. In reality, it was more like an elephant crashing through the jungle, sending all in its path fleeing for cover well ahead of its arrival.

The empty rhetoric accompanying its announcement never materialized. Reading between the lines, what the “pivot” actually meant, was the doubling down on attempts to subvert, corral and otherwise twist the arms of Southeast Asia, South Asia and East Asia into arraying themselves for Washington’s convenience and gain, against the growing influence and power of Beijing.

American designs have unraveled everywhere from Malaysia to Thailand and the only steps of this pivot still in good form appear to be in Myanmar and the South China Sea where budding political subversion is growing in one and an escalating strategy of tension is growing in the other. Despite these “successes,” the prospects of Myanmar resigning itself to a future with close and growing ties to Beijing are unrealistic.

Likewise, the notion of a re-militarized Japan somehow containing China is untenable and more so each passing day.

Those capitulating today to Washington’s attempts to reorder Asia will only be setting their nations back in the years to come when ultimately the “pivot” fails, and all that is left is China and those nations that decided to move forward together with it on its way up.