Sunday, 2 August 2015

China-Japan Tensions To Increase As Japanese PM Abe Revamps Security Policies

By D. S. Rajan | Eurasia Review: At a time when China-Japan relations already remain severely hampered due to contentious issues like history (Japan’s role in the World War II) and territory (East China Sea), a series of sweeping changes in the security realm being pursued vigorously by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since he assumed power in December 2012, are likely to further exacerbate tensions between the two Asian powers in the coming years.

It is clear that changes being contemplated by Abe regime are largely in response to its evolved perceptions on the current level of threats to Japan’s security. Reflecting them are the contents of Japan’s latest annual Defence White Paper (July 21, 2015), which are sure to play a role in shaping the future contours of Abe’s security and foreign policies. The document’s ranking of China as the main source of security concerns, makes certain that Abe’s approach in the coming years will become more and more China-centric. The nationalistic leader will give more teeth to and expand the role of his country’s military backed by an amended constitution. Over all, it can be said that the ongoing Abe-led security policy transformation in Japan on the basis of his “proactive pacifism” concept, will have far-reaching implications for the power balance and security in Asia. Geo-political shifts in the Asia-Pacific region look a certainty and there is an urgent need for other major regional powers like India to carefully watch and respond to the emerging trends.

Australian Schools Monitoring Students' Computers For Signs Of Extremism

from Australian schools are using computer software to monitor students for signs of radicalization, according to media reports.

Fairfax media reported on Friday that more than 10 schools had installed surveillance software onto its pupil's school-supplied computers to detect for political extremism.

The software alerts the principal and wellbeing officers when students search for specific terms over the internet.

Students' emails are also filtered, with a messages deemed to be from extremist group intercepted before the student is exposed to the content.

Jeremy Ludowyke, principal of Melbourne High School, one of the schools that has implemented the spyware, said parents and students had been consulted before it was introduced.

Malaysian Police Arrest 3 In 1MDB Probe

from Channel News Asia: Malaysian police on Saturday (Aug 1) arrested a deputy public prosecutor (DPP) with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), an ex-MACC adviser and an official from the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) as part of a probe into "defamatory reports" by Sarawak Report's Clare Rewcastle Brown.

Police say the three are also being probed in connection with the leaking of official government information that was "misused".

Ahmad Sazilee Khairi, the DPP who was arrested, had been acting for a special task force probing allegations that around US$700 million had been channelled into the personal bank accounts of Prime Minister Najib Razak through entities linked to debt-ridden state investment firm, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

In a statement, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said ex-MACC adviser Rashpal Singh, Jessica Gurmeet Kaur from the AGC and MACC DPP Sazilee Abdul Khairi had been arrested following several reports against the editor of London-based website Sarawak Report, Clare Rewcastle Brown.

Mr Khalid said officials from the central bank, Bank Negara, and other commercial banks will also be called in to aid with investigations. Sarawak Report had been among the first to publish those allegations, along with many other articles critical of the Malaysian government.

Mr Khalid said investigations will be carried out fairly and transparently, in accordance to the laws.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Australian Senators Give Medical Marijuana The Green Light

from Sydney Morning Herald: Senators from across the political divide will endorse a bill to legalise medical marijuana despite warnings it could create a regulatory nightmare.

Fairfax Media can reveal that a committee made up of Coalition, Labor and crossbench senators will strongly recommend that Parliament pass a cross-party bill to set up a medical marijuana regulator.

Spearheaded by Greens Leader Richard Di Natale​, the Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill would effectively make the federal government responsible for overseeing the production, distribution and use of the drug.

The bill was introduced into Parliament last November and sent to a committee in February. After conducting public hearings around the country and attracting almost 200 public submissions, the committee is due to deliver its report on August 10.

Sources say the committee will back the bill despite "strong concerns" from the Health Department.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

China Has Drilling Rigs Near Disputed Islands: Japan

from Press TV: Tokyo says China has stationed 16 drilling rigs near its de facto maritime border with Japan in the South China Sea amid the escalation of a territorial dispute between the two East Asian countries.

On Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga published diagrams demonstrating the location of the Chinese offishore platforms, saying they could exploit undersea reserves in the disputed waters.

“It is extremely deplorable that China is unilaterally developing resources while the border has not been settled,” Suga told reporters, adding that 12 out of the 16 structures have been installed over the past two years.

The Japanese official also noted that the platforms violate a June 2008 accord on joint development of natural gas fields in the contested territories.

Tokyo has lodged protests against Beijing’s moves in the disputed waters, but China has been reluctant “on resuming talks over implementing the June 2008 agreement, even though its activities appear to be continuing,” he added.

The development came one day after Japan censured China over what it called “coercive” attempts to reclaim land in the South China Sea.

In a defense report published on Tuesday, the Japanese government accused China of acting “unilaterally and without compromise” in the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Philippines Repairs Crumbling South China Sea Outpost

from The Philippines said Wednesday it was repairing a crumbling ship serving as its lonely outpost in the disputed South China Sea as China deploys more vessels and builds new islands nearby.

This would ensure the rust-eaten World War II-vintage BRP Sierra Madre remains livable for a tiny unit of marines guarding Second Thomas Shoal, said Philippine Navy spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo.

"Maintenance repair is being done to ensure the vessel's minimum habitability. We are morally and duty-bound to provide for our troops there," he told AFP.

The Philippine military deliberately grounded the 100-meter (328-foot) vessel atop the reefs in 1999 in a last-ditch effort to check the advance of China, which four years earlier occupied Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef some 40 kilometers (25 miles) away.

The disputed outcrops are located around 200 kilometers from the western Philippine island of Palawan and roughly 1,100 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese land mass.

The Philippines regularly rotates a group of around nine marines aboard the tank landing ship, which first saw service for the United States Navy in World War II. It was acquired by the Philippine Navy in the 1970s.

Australia's Navy Set To Grow As Next-Gen Warships Expected To Be Built Locally

from Australia's naval presence is likely to grow "much bigger" over the next decade as a result of the federal government embarking on a national shipbuilding program, a feasibility study has shown.

Australia's navy is expected to grow from 11, older warships up to 14 or 15 new surface warships that would remain in service for 20 years as a result of a continuous production model.

The Abbott government has indicated a new shipbuilding plan that would be announced soon, with the rolling build program likely to commence once the current fleet of Anzac class frigates, now almost 20 years old, begin to retire.

The study, released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said the move would likely involve the privatization of government-owned shipbuilder ASC.

The ASPI said the Australian shipbuilding industry is currently in the grips of the "valley of death" -- the period between the end of current projects and the start of new work -- meaning the unions have leverage over the government to find them new work, even if it means selling ASC.

The ASPI's study indicated that the expected off-shore build of new submarines for the navy has forced the government to promise the future of Australian shipbuilding as an alternative.

Friday, 10 July 2015

U.S. and Japan Enter ‘Final’ Trade Talks Ahead of Possible TPP Agreement

from Japan Times: Trade negotiators from the U.S. and Japan met Thursday in Tokyo to work out what they hope will be a final bilateral deal needed for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

The meeting took place as Kyodo News reported that the government was discussing a nontariff framework for certain imports in return for allowing Japan to maintain high tariffs on rice.

Along with beef, pork, wheat, sugarcane, and dairy products, rice is one of Japan’s so-called sacred sectors, where political pressure to maintain high tariffs in the face of cheaper imports from the U.S. has stymied efforts to conclude a TPP agreement.

The U.S. is pushing Japan to accept 175,000 tons of American rice above current levels, plus another 40,000 tons of rice products, for a total of 215,000 tons. The Japanese government has said it cannot accept more than an additional 50,000 tons of rice.

According to Kyodo, Japan is also considering expanding imports of rice from Australia under a special quota, the amount of which is expected to be around 12 percent of that for the United States.

Despite the tough negotiations so far, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed confidence ahead of the bilateral meeting.

“We’re approaching the finish line,” Abe said at a symposium in Tokyo on Thursday morning.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

China Stocks Fall Again Despite Support Measures

from Reuters: Chinese stocks fell on Tuesday, taking little comfort from a slew of support measures unleashed by Beijing in recent days, and unnerved by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's failure to mention the market chaos in a statement on the economy.

Before the market opened, Li said in comments posted on a government website that China had the confidence and ability to deal with challenges faced by its economy, but had nothing to say on the three-week plunge that has knocked around 30 percent off Chinese shares since mid-June.

After a brief pause in the slide on Monday, the CSI300 index .CSI300 of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen ended down 1.8 percent on Tuesday, while the Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC lost 1.3 percent. [.SS]

The ChiNext growth board .CHINEXTC, home to some of China's giddiest small-cap valuations, fell 5.1 percent.

Qi Yifeng, analyst at consultancy CEBM, said government measures were not strong enough to reverse the downtrend, especially as it was a liquidity issue for many who had borrowed to buy shares and were now forced to sell to meet margin calls.

Japan Joins U.S. and Australian War Games Amid China Tensions

from Intell Asia: TheUnited States and Australia kicked off a massive joint biennial military exercise on Sunday, with Japan taking part for the first time as tensions with China over territorial rows loom over the drills.

The two-week “Talisman Sabre” exercise in the Northern Territory and Queensland state involves 30,000 personnel from the US and Australia practising operations at sea, in the air and on land.

Some 40 personnel from Japan’s army – the Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) – will join the American contingent, while more than 500 troops from New Zealand are also involved in the exercise, which concludes on July 21.

“It is a very, very important alliance,” prime minister Tony Abbott said Friday inSydneyon board the USS Blue Ridge, which is taking part in the exercise, referring to Australia-US ties.

“It’s a very important relationship and right now we are facing quite significant challenges in many parts of the world but particularly in theMiddle East.”

The war games, being held for the sixth time, come asChinaflexes its strategic and economic muscle in the region.

Beijing has been building artificial islands and facilities in disputed waters in the South China Sea, and has a separate territorial dispute with Japan over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands – which it calls the Diaoyus – in the East China Sea.