Tuesday, 28 April 2015

U.S. and Japan Strike New Military Agreement

from defensenews.com: The US and Japan agreed to a major update in their military relationship Monday, one that is expected to lead to a greater global presence for Japan's military while strengthening ties between the two nations on cyber, space and industrial programs, according to a senior US defense official.

The new US-Japan defense guidelines were agreed upon in New York City on Monday during the 2+2 talks between Japan and the US, where US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry are meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

The senior defense official, who spoke to reporters ahead of the signing, called the agreement a "very big event" that redefines how Japan operates as a military partner around the globe.

Japan will be able to defend regional allies that come under attack, a change that means Japanese missile defense systems could be used to intercept any weapons launched toward the United States — notable, given its close proximity to North Korea, which the official later described as a "growing threat" to regional stability.

In addition, expect to see increased Japanese presence around the globe on peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, and potentially also on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations.

The guidelines will also lead to the establishment of a standing "alliance coordination mechanism," made up of Japanese and US officials from the defense and foreign relations sides. That body will provide a streamlined way of organizing and controlling US-Japan operations, something that has hindered the military relationship in the past.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Don't Rock The Boat On The Anzac 'Tradition'

Freedom of speech is all well and good – until you attack our most-revered war commemoration.

By Michael Koziol | Sydney Morning Herald:

It doesn't pay to question the orthodoxy in this country, as Scott McIntyre, formerly of SBS, found out the hard way this weekend. His career was the latest victim of – as he termed it – the "cultification" of Anzac, which has likewise claimed our sense of historical perspective and freedom of speech.

In 2006, the late author Christopher Hitchens delivered what is now regarded as something of a classic lecture on free speech, as part of a debate that took place at the University of Toronto. He notably defended his friend David Irving, who was imprisoned in Austria at the time for "perhaps planning" to "utter an unwelcome thought" about the history of the Holocaust.

The broader point Hitchens made in that speech was that history is so often taught in such a way that a country's students are "made to swallow an official and unalterable story" about what took place. The heretic who questions that official line does not just have a right to speak, Hitchens said – their speech should be given extra protection. "Because what he has to say must have taken him some effort to come up with, might contain a grain of historical truth, might in any case get people to think about why do they know what they already think they know."

And so it surely goes for the legend of Anzac, whose heroism and bravery is inculcated at every school across the land, and whose honour we toast, religiously, at this time each year. There tends to be some introspection, for sure – about the glorification of war, mostly – but within narrow, comfortable parameters. Nothing truly contrarian is ventured, no boats are rocked.

McIntyre, a sports journalist, learned rather quickly about the outer limit of those parameters. His tweets made some upsetting suggestions; that perhaps Australian involvement in World War I was unjustified, that some soldiers Australia dispatched to several parts of the world may have been less than ethical in their conduct, and that our commemoration of Gallipoli has, to some extent, become a day of drinking and gambling bathed in crass nationalism.

For the Right, this would not stand. The calls for McIntyre's removal were swift and loud, most forcefully from elements of the commentariat who typically condemn Twitter's tendency to outrage and instead rally for free speech. This hypocrisy they justified on the basis that a (partly) taxpayer-funded organisation such as SBS could not keep on the books someone who so clearly hated Australia and its citizens.

SBS apparently agreed, for McIntyre was gone the next morning. And well within their rights they may be. But the outcome makes it clear: only one version of the Anzac legend can be proclaimed in this brave, pluralistic nation of ours. Dissidents will simply not be tolerated.

Cuts To Pay and Perks Trigger Exodus From China's State Banks

from Reuters.com: Bankers at China's top state lenders are quitting in increasing numbers because of cuts to their pay and perks, and moving to a new breed of financial firms such as leasing companies, trusts and online platforms, bankers and headhunters say.

As part of an austerity, anti-graft drive, Beijing last year dictated pay cuts of up to a half for senior-level state bankers. Some state-owned lenders have since quietly cut salaries across the board.

The declining popularity of bank jobs could make it difficult for state lenders to hire and retain talent, making them less able to compete with newer lending institutions.

"In the past we wouldn't see CVs from the state sector, but now we do," said Maggy Fang, managing director of executive compensation Asia Pacific at Towers Watson, a professional services company, noting that most of these resumes are from mid-level, thirtysomething bankers.

And they are good news for the newer finance firms.

"If an applicant is from one of the big five (state banks), they will have good training and are likely to have experience of trading systems and customer credit," Zhao Shen, deputy general manager of the risk management department at the leasing arm of shipbuilder China CSSC Holdings, told Reuters, adding his firm has hired from banks and plans to hire more. "We can guarantee we'll pay them more."

Philippines Calls On ASEAN To Urge China To Halt Land Reclamation

from channelnewsasia.com: The Philippines called on its Southeast Asian neighbours to unite in urging China to halt reclamation of land in the South China Sea, but the call failed to raise widespread support ahead of a regional summit.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas. Its claims overlap with those of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Recent satellite images suggest China has made rapid progress in filling in land in contested territory in the Spratly islands and in building an airstrip suitable for military use and that it may be planning another.

In a speech to foreign ministers ahead of the official opening of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario did not name China directly but said its "northern neighbour" was quickly advancing with land reclamation.

"Is it not time for ASEAN to say to our northern neighbour that what it is doing is wrong and that the massive reclamations must be immediately stopped?" Rosario asked.

The territorial dispute is seen as one of Asia's hot spots, posing risks that it could result in conflict as countries aggressively stake their claims.

China has said the recent construction is meant to serve civilian purposes such as fishing and search and rescue.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Filipino Protesters Demand U.S. Forces Withdrawal

from Press TV: Dozens of people in the Philippines have staged a protest outside the US embassy in the capital Manila, calling for the withdrawal of US troops from the Southeast Asian country.

Chanting slogans such as "US troops out now," a number of the protesters clashed with the police during the Saturday protest.

The demonstrators also voiced anger over US involvement in a police operation in January which resulted in the death of 44 security forces. 

“US military, US soldiers are with terrorists in the Philippines. We want you out now. We want you to end your military intervention in our country and we don’t want to participate in your phony war on terror,” a protester said in a Russia Today video on Saturday.

On January 25, a 12-hour gun battle between the Philippine police and the members of two militant groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) claimed the lives of 44 police forces, 18 MILF members and five from the BIFF.

The aim of the police operation in the town of Mamasapano, in the southern province of Maguindanao, was to capture or kill two men on the US government’s so-called list of “most wanted terrorists”.

The men, Abdul Basit Usman and Malaysian national Zulkifli bin Hir, were living in the southern farming communities of the Philippines. Hir was killed in the raid, but Usman escaped.

The US reportedly provided intelligence, training and equipment for the operation.

The US terminated its permanent military presence in the Philippines in 1992, but the two sides hold annual war games to this day.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Unpatriotic, Every Single Anzac Day

By Michael Brull // NewMatilda.com

I’ve never been patriotic, so Anzac Day has never held much significance for me. Every year it comes by, someone reminds me of it, I briefly remember and then forget it.

This isn’t because my memory is unpatriotic: I forget almost all of the other public holidays every year too. I mostly remember when Australia Day is because I have particular objections to it.

For me, patriotism and nationalism are a bit like religion. I’m not in favour of them, but I think some strains are worse than others. So long as they’re not harming anyone, I’m happy to make peace with people who believe in those sorts of things.

However, when asked I will happily set forth my values, even though they are sharply at odds with those who worship a god, a nation or a state.

As with religion and their various gods, the patriotic and nationalistic have their own forms of blasphemy. In Australia, insulting the valour or judgment of our brave diggers is one such blasphemy.
Reverence for Anzac Day has a corollary in anger at those who fail to share this reverence. Murdoch press columnist Miranda Devine wrote about this in her usual style, reviewing a book by right-wing historian Mervyn Bendle.

Devine naturally considers this book “excellent”. Bendle claims that “we witness a sustained new round of attacks on the Anzac tradition from determined ideologues on the far-Left; pampered, well-resourced and influential academics; disgruntled politicians and junior military officers; and their media camp advocates.”

Dr Bendle is concerned that these unpatriotic people advance a “guilt-ridden and self-lacerating historical narrative initiated by [historian Manning] Clark, the New Left, and the feminist movement… post modernists, multiculturalists and post colonial theorists”.

They are led by people like former Prime Minister Paul Keating, “academic historians in elite institutions, including the Australian National University, and (incredibly) the Australian Defence Force Academy, and the Australian War Memorial”.

Passing strange that the people who train the military aren’t militaristic enough for the Murdoch press and its favoured right-wing academics.

As for Anzac Day, I don’t want my position to be overstated. I’m not in favour of heckling during a minute of silence, or harassing people involved in Anzac Day parades. I simply have reservations about the nationalistic way in which I think Anzac Day is interpreted.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Asian, African Nations Challenge 'Obsolete' World Order

from reuters.com: Leaders of Asian and African nations called on Wednesday for a new global order that is open to emerging economic powers and leaves the "obsolete ideas" of Bretton Woods institutions in the past.

Their calls came at the opening of a meeting of Asian and African nations in Jakarta to mark the 60th anniversary of a conference that made a developing-world stand against colonialism and led to the Cold War era's non-aligned movement.

Among the leaders listening were Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who were expected to meet on the sidelines of the conference, the latest sign of a thaw in relations between the Asian rivals.

Sino-Japanese ties have chilled in recent years due to feuds over the two neighbors' wartime past, as well as territorial rows and regional rivalry. Bilateral talks in Jakarta on Wednesday could promote a cautious rapprochement that began when Abe and Xi met at a summit in Beijing late last year.

Abe, in an apparent reference to China's growing military assertiveness, told the conference that the use of force by the "mightier" should never go unchecked.

The Japanese prime minister also said Japan had pledged, "with feelings of deep remorse over the past war", to adhere to principles such as refraining from acts of aggression and settling international disputed by peaceful means.

It was not immediately clear if the remarks would satisfy China's desire for Japan to acknowledge its wartime past, but a Japanese official told Reuters Abe and Xi would meet.

Xi had earlier told the conference that "a new type of international relations" was needed to encourage cooperation between Asian and African nations, and said the developed world had an obligation to support the rest with no political strings attached, the Xinhua news agency said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the conference host, said those who still insisted that global economic problems could only be solved through the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank were clinging to "obsolete ideas". 

"There needs to be change," he said. "It's imperative that we build a new international economic order that is open to new emerging economic powers."

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

U.S.-Japan Fail to Seal Trade Agreement Before Abe's U.S. Trip

from bloomberg.com: U.S. and Japanese officials failed to reach agreement in marathon trade talks in Tokyo, a setback for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hopes of arriving for a summit in Washington next week with a pact in hand.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman left Tokyo after negotiations concluded around 4 a.m. Tuesday, with differences remaining over auto and rice imports. Froman had traveled to Japan on Sunday for two days of talks with Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari to help pave the way for a broader Asia-Pacific agreement involving 10 other nations.

Differences on trade matters have “substantially narrowed,” Froman said before leaving the Japanese capital. The two countries have reached “stage nine out of 10” in the discussions, Abe said in a television interview with BS-Fuji TV as the talks were held late Monday.

“They tried to spin it in a positive way, but what seems to be pretty clear is that there is no breakthrough,” said James Brown, an assistant professor for international affairs at Temple University in Tokyo. “On a foreign policy level, this is a major disappointment” ahead of Abe’s trip to the U.S. that begins April 26.

The slow progress by Japan and the U.S. in advancing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact in order to remain a center of economic gravity in Asia comes as China enhances its own clout by luring more than 50 countries to join a new China-led regional infrastructure bank. Japan and the U.S. have been trying to overcome differences since Japan first said it would seek to join the TPP in 2013.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Falling Ringgit: Bigger Bills, Tighter Belts For Malaysians

from Asia News Network: In the zero-sum game of currency markets, for every winner there is a loser. And right now, against currencies that matter to them, the Malaysians want the referee to blow the whistle.

The bills at home have become bigger and trips overseas have become rarer as the ringgit, with lower oil prices and the threat of a sovereign downgrade weighing it down, shrinks against the greenback and the Singdollar.

For many, like Ammar Ghazali, the ringgit's fortunes have mirrored their own.

He had just found a new job and set his sights on an iPhone 6 when it was released in Malaysia last November. He missed out on the first wave because of the huge demand. And when it was possible to get his hands on it, he realised that it had become too expensive in Malaysian currency terms. Since March, Apple has raised the price of the device twice - by 13 per cent in all - and it now costs 3,550 ringgit (US$977).

"So I'm stuck with my old Blackberry," the 31-year-old told The Straits Times.

While he bides his time, others are seeing their money slip away. Yvonne Ho said her grocery bills left her stunned as items like fresh milk and canned tuna have become 30 per cent costlier in recent months. The 6 per cent goods and service tax introduced on April 1 has also played its part but it is the currency shock that has hurt most.

Since last August, the ringgit has plummeted 15 per cent against the greenback and recently touched a six-year low when one US dollar was worth 3.72 ringgit. While it slid a more modest 6 per cent on the Singapore dollar, this has left it at its weakest point (S$1=2.72 ringgit) against its neighbouring currency since at least 1981.

Japan's Population Falls For 4th Straight Year

from japantoday.com: Japan’s population has fallen for the fourth year running, falling back to a level it was last at in 2000, with more than one in four people now aged 65 or older, the internal affairs ministry said.

The population dropped by 0.17%, or 215,000 people, to 127,083,000 as of October 1 last year, according to the data released on Friday. The figure includes long-staying foreigners.

The number of people aged 65 or over rose by 1.1 million to 33 million and now outnumber those aged 14 or younger by two to one.

The demographic shift is due to a combination of a low birthrate and long life expectancy.

Japan’s rapidly graying population poses a major headache for policymakers who are faced with trying to ensure an ever-dwindling pool of workers can pay for the growing number of pensioners.

The country has very little immigration. Any suggestion of opening its borders to young workers who could help plug the population gap provokes strong reactions among the public.

Japan’s population is forecast to drop to some 86.7 million in 2060 with the proportion of people aged 65 or over estimated to reach nearly 40% of the total, the government has warned.

RELATED: 'Immigration Revolution' Suggested As Solution To Japan's Dwindling Population