Posts Tagged ‘Indonesia’

Four Indonesian provinces, including Riau, declare disaster alerts for forest fires

February 21, 2018

 Image may contain: cloud, sky, nature and outdoor

Smoke rises from a peatland fire in Pekanbaru, Riau on Feb 1, 2018. It is one of 73 detected hot spots causing haze on the island of Sumatra. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA – Four Indonesian provinces – including one that sits at Singapore’s doorstep – are officially on disaster alert after a rising number of hot spots were detected within their boundaries.

Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan provinces have declared disaster alert status, said Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for the country’s disaster management agency (BNPB), in a press statement on Wednesday (Feb 21). All four provinces are located around the equator, with Riau being closest to Singapore.

The disaster alert status means that the national government in Jakarta will be able to step in more easily and with less red tape to deal with raging fires, deploy troops and provide logistics and funds, Dr Sutopo said.

“The number of hot spots has continued to increase. In the past week, the most number of hot spots was found in West Kalimantan province. Pontianak is blanketed by haze,” Dr Sutopo said.

In the past 24 hours through 7am on Wednesday, there was a total of 78 hot spots across Indonesia, according to the Terra and Aqua satellites, based on a confidence level of between 30 per cent and 79 per cent.

West Kalimantan province recorded the highest number at 23 hot spots, followed by West Java at 14, Central Kalimantan with 12, Riau at nine, Riau Islands and Papua each with four, Central Java three, West Papua, East Java and Maluku each with two, and Banka-Belitung Islands, North Maluku and South Sumatra each with one.

 Image result for Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan , Central Kalimantan, indonesia, map

Indonesian provinces located near the equator are now in their first phase of the dry season, which usually runs from early in the year to some time in March. The rainy season then sets in at these provinces in March and lasts till May before another, more intense dry season from June to September.

“Forest and plantation fires usually pick up in the second (June-September) dry season there,” Dr Sutopo said.

The authorities are stepping up their efforts to manage forest and plantation fires. There will be more land and air operations, regular patrols and tighter law enforcement, Dr Sutopo said. Public campaigns against slash-and-burn tactics and on public health are also being ramped up, he added.

Indonesia is deploying joint forces from BNPB’s provincial branches, the armed forces, forestry agency fire fighters, city fire fighters, and civil security officers, among others, Dr Sutopo added.

BNPB has also kept aircraft ready for cloud seeding and helicopters for water bombing.

 http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/four-indonesian-provinces-including-riau-declare-disaster-alerts-for-forest-fires
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Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1.
Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1, 2015. Photo: Getty Images
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Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.
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An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo

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South China Sea turning into signals hub for Chinese military

February 21, 2018

Throughout the ages, wars have been waged over territory. From nation states and warring factions, to gangs and real estate developers everyone knows location is key.  The more land you control, the more territory you lord over – the more power you wield.

Generally the acreage and borders  in question are based on the land as nature intended it to be. But what if your strategic interests required creating land out of thin air, or in this case, deep blue ocean?  Enter the People’s Republic of China and their man-made islands in the Spratly island chain, in the hotly disputed South China Sea.

The United States and its allies have been watching the construction of these man made islands for some time. China began the projects under the auspices of navigational necessity but analysis of their chosen locations quickly revealed there was another strategic motivation at work. In fact, they were building new military bases.

In early 2017 the DC based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)released a report– having analyzed recent satellite photos –and concluded that runways, aircraft hangers, radar sites and hardened surface-to-air missile shelters had either been finished or were nearing completion.

The report also stated that the satellite images appeared to be the most conclusive indication yet that China is using its island-building project to bolster its claim over almost the entire South China Sea and its islands and reefs–bases that will give China the ability to deploy combat aircraft and other military assets with efficiency across the disputed region.

The U.S. and its allies raised ref flags and held press conferences to express disapproval but effectively the Chinese continued their projects unabated.

Fast forward to February 2018, when new satellite imagery shows China’s new military lily pads in the South China Sea may have an even more nefarious purpose in the form of full on intelligence communications nodes. On Saturday CSIS released another report, this time comparing its own satellite images and aerial photos released by the Philippine Daily Inquirer earlier this month.

CSIS says the photos add more detail than previously available but do not show new capabilities so much as reinforcing their earlier point that “these artificial islands now host substantial, largely complete, air and naval bases, and new construction continues apace despite diplomatic overtures between China and its fellow claimants.”

The report finds the northeastern corner of Fiery Cross Reef is now equipped with a communications or sensor array bigger than those found on other artificial islands in the Spratlys. Fiery Cross is one of the seven reefs Beijing turned into islands in the Spratlys. It is the smallest and the southermost of the “Big Three”, which also includes Subi, or Zhubi in Chinese, and Mischief, or Meiji.

Construction on Fiery Cross Reef:

Image courtesy of CSIS/Philippine Inquirer

Specific construction on Fiery Cross according the CSIS:

  1. The northern end of the base’s 3,000-meter runway, which was completed in late 2015.
  2. Hangars to accommodate four combat aircraft. Hangar space for another 20 combat aircraft and four larger hangars, capable of housing bombers, refueling tankers, and large transport aircraft, have been built farther south along the runway. All the hangars were completed in early 2017.
  3. A tall tower housing a sensor/communications facility topped by a radome, completed in late 2016.
  4. A field of upright poles erected in 2017. The original notations on the aerial photos identify this only as a communication facility, but it is most likely a high frequency radar array like the one built on Cuarteron Reef two years earlier.
  5. One of the four point defense facilities built around the base in 2016. Similar point defenses exist on all of China’s artificial islands, sporting a combination of large guns (identified in one of the aerial photos of Johnson Reef as having 100-mm barrels) and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS) emplacements.
  6. A large communications/sensor array completed during 2017. None of the other bases in the Spratlys so far has a comparable array, though smaller ones have been built on Subi and Mischief, suggesting that Fiery Cross might be serving as a signals intelligence/communications hub for Chinese forces in the area.
  7. Three towers housing sensor/communications facilities topped by radomes, completed in 2017.

Additional Construction of Concern

Subi Reef, just 12 nautical miles from Philippine-occupied Thitu Island: China has built a large lighthouse, a 3,000-metre airstrip, a high-frequency radar array and underground storage tunnels that could be used for ammunition.

 

Mischief Reef: Three towers housing sensor or communications facilities topped by a dome to protect radar equipment were completed in 2017.

Gaven Reef: a solar panel array was built in 2015, along with other facilities such as wind turbines, a tall tower housing a communications facility and an administrative center.

Fiery Cross was the site of the most construction in 2017 with work on buildings covering an estimated 100,000 square metres (27 acres).

What Say you China?

Beijing has been accused of militarizing the South China Sea, which is also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam but has repeatedly rejected those accusations. Their actions continue to say otherwise.

In order to wield power over this region–to create a sphere of influence–China needs to dissuade all others concerned from any further resistance. Strategic locations like Fiery Cross have been talked about as potential command and control centers for Chinese activity in the Spratlys since the early 1980’s – it appears once again that while the world was involved in other things, the Chinese made their plans into reality.

 

Malaysia arrests Filipinos seeking to set up extremist cell

February 21, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | Philippine soldiers prepare for an operation against the Abu Sayyaf in 2016: the group is now suspected of trying to set up a Malaysian cell

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Ten suspected Islamic militants who were trying to establish a Malaysian cell of a Philippine kidnap-for-ransom group have been arrested in Borneo island, police said Wednesday.

Image result for Borneo island, map

The alleged extremists, mostly Filipinos, are also accused of trying to help fighters linked to the Islamic State (IS) group travel to the Philippines to join up with militants there, they said.

The southern Philippines has long been a pocket of Islamic militancy in the largely Catholic country. A long siege in Marawi, the country’s main Muslim centre, sparked fears IS was seeking to establish a foothold in the region.

Malaysian police made the arrests in January and early February in Sabah state on the Malaysian part of Borneo, not far from the southern Philippines. Borneo is a vast island shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Seven of those detained were Filipinos, including several senior members of Philippine extremist group Abu Sayyaf which has been behind the kidnappings of numerous foreigners, Malaysian national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement.

“Early information obtained from the 10 suspects caught in Sabah revealed an attempt by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group to set up a cell in Sabah,” he said.

One of those arrested was a 39-year-old believed to have received orders from a senior militant leader in the southern Philippines to bring IS members from the city of Sandakan in Sabah to join militant groups.

Another suspect was a 27-year-old identified as a senior member of the Abu Sayyaf leadership based in the Philippines.

The other three detained were Malaysians, police said. Officials did not disclose the suspects’ identities.

Malaysia has rounded up numerous suspected militants in recent times as fears grow that the influence of the IS group could encourage extremists to launch attacks in the Muslim-majority country.

Abu Sayyaf, originally a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network, has splintered into factions, with some continuing to engage in banditry and kidnappings.

One faction pledged allegiance to IS and joined militants in the siege of Marawi, which claimed more than 1,100 lives.

‘Marawi attackers set sights on 2nd city’

February 20, 2018

 

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said the plot to attack either Iligan or Cotabato city fell apart after the Marawi siege ended, but the extremists have continued to recruit new fighters to recover from their battle defeats.  Credit KJ Rosales

(Associated Press) – February 21, 2018 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Islamic State (IS) group-linked militants planned but failed to attack another southern Philippine city shortly after troops crushed their siege of Marawi last year, the leader of the country’s largest Muslim rebel group said yesterday.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said the plot to attack either Iligan or Cotabato city fell apart after the Marawi siege ended, but the extremists have continued to recruit new fighters to recover from their battle defeats.

Murad said his group relayed intelligence about the planned attacks on the two cities, which are bustling commercial hubs, to government forces through ceasefire channels established during years of peace talks. He made the comments at a forum with foreign news correspondents, stressing how his group has helped battle terrorism.

President Duterte and military officials have also said that remnants of the radical groups behind the five-month siege that devastated Marawi were hunting for new recruits and plotting new attacks.

Duterte mentioned the threats in a speech late Monday in which he criticized Canada for imposing restrictions on the use of combat helicopters the Philippines has sought to buy. He has ordered the military to cancel the purchase.

“They are about to retake another city in the Philippines or to take another geographical unit but I couldn’t use the helicopters,” Duterte said, explaining that the Bell helicopters could not be employed in combat assaults.

Duterte has not elaborated on the nature of post-Marawi attack threats.

Murad’s group, which the military estimates has about 10,000 fighters scattered mostly in the marshy south, hopes Congress will pass legislation this year implementing a 2014 autonomy pact with the government.

He said the prospects appear bright, but added that the rebels are aware that the government failed to enforce peace pacts in the past, prompting disgruntled rebels to form breakaway groups.

The rebel leader warned that restive young Muslims in the southern Mindanao region, homeland of Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, may be drawn to extremism if the peace efforts fail.

As IS group militants lose bases in the Middle East, “we will increasingly find them in our midst as they seek new strategic grounds where the hold of government is weak such as in Mindanao,” Murad said.

Last year, Murad said his group lost 24 fighters who were defending rural communities from breakaway militants who have aligned with the IS. “We know we cannot decisively win the war against extremism if we cannot win the peace in the halls of Congress,” Murad said.

The new Muslim autonomous zone, which generally covers five poor provinces, is to replace an existing one that is seen as a dismal failure. The new plan grants much more autonomy, power and guaranteed resources to the region.

The rebels have been fighting since the 1970s for Muslim self-rule in Mindanao in an insurrection that has killed about 150,000 combatants and civilians. The United States and other Western governments have backed the autonomy deal, partly to prevent the insurgency from breeding extremists.

Read more at https://beta.philstar.com/headlines/2018/02/21/1789910/marawi-attackers-set-sights-2nd-city#TMKuVgfiM2cuKfkH.99

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Philippines: Islamic group warns of heightened extremism if Congress does not pass law

February 20, 2018

Murad Ebrahim, chairman of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), gestures as he speaks during a Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) forum in Manila on February 20, 2018. (AFP)
MANILA: If the Philippines Congress does not pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), extremism could rise in Mindanao, the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) warned on Tuesday. The BBL follows the peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in 2014.
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Foreign fighters continue to arrive in Mindanao, said MILF Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim.
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“They’re coming in from the porous borders in the south (Mindanao), from Malaysia, Indonesia,” he added.
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“And it’s not only Malaysians and Indonesians… There are some Middle Eastern people coming in.”
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The MILF received information that a Canadian of Arab origin, not older than 25, entered recently and went to Patikul in Sulu to join the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Ebrahim said.
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“So this challenge with extremism is really very high, and… we really need to cooperate, everybody, in order to counter extremism,” he added.
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Daesh continues to be a threat to the Philippines because it is being displaced in the Middle East, he said.
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“We’re all aware of what happened in the Middle East. I think nobody wants it to happen here,” he added.
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The chances of another Marawi siege cannot be ruled out because extremists “can still partner with many other small groups, like Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF),” Ebrahim said.
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“We’ve seen the destruction in Marawi. In more than 40 years of conflict in Mindanao, this never happened,” he added.
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“There has been no city or community that was turned into rubble completely. And this happened… when we’re already in the final stage of the peace process.”
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While the MILF is doing its part to prevent terrorists from gaining ground on the island, “the best and most effective counter to them is when the peace process will succeed,” he said.
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“We can’t decisively win the war against extremism if we can’t win the peace in the halls of Congress.”
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The assistant secretary for peace and security, Dickson Hermoso, told Arab News that the BBL “will be passed based on the reaction of the majority of the people on the ground.”
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He added: “They want the BBL, based on consultations by the Senate and congressional committees. There’s overwhelming support from the Bangsamoro people.”
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The Senate plans to pass the bill by March 22, before it goes on recess, Hermoso said, expressing hope that it will be signed into law by the president before the end of next month.
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Political analyst Ramon Casiple said he expects the BBL to be passed soon, but warned that if not, another Marawi siege is possible.
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The president may call for a special session of Congress just to see the bill passed, Casiple added.
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Indonesia police seize over a ton of crystal meth on ship

February 20, 2018

The Indonesian navy early this month seized 1.3 tons of crystal methamphetamine and arrested four Taiwanese crew on a ship spotted in the strait between Singapore and Indonesia. (Courtesy Indonesian Navy)
JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities early Tuesday seized 1.6 tons of crystal methamphetamine hidden on a Singapore-flagged ship in their second major drug bust this month, officials said.
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Customs inspectors said they spotted the vessel between Indonesia’s Sumatra island and Singapore and reported it to police.
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A subsequent search of the ship turned up the huge haul of narcotics stuffed into some 81 rice sacks. Four Taiwanese crew were arrested including a 69-year-old man.
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“We are currently weighing the drugs and questioning four Taiwanese crew,” tax and customs agency spokesman Deni Sirjantoro said.
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Indonesian authorities said they had been looking for the ship for several months on suspicion it was shipping drugs to Indonesia and Australia, adding that it may have flown flags from different countries to avoid detection.
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Earlier this month the Indonesian navy seized 1.3 tons of crystal methamphetamine and arrested four Taiwanese crew on a ship spotted in the strait between Singapore and Indonesia.
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Indonesia has some of the world’s toughest anti-drugs laws, including capital punishment for some trafficking cases.

Another Marawi possible, Philippine rebel chief warns

February 20, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Cecil MORELLA | Murad warns that another Marawi is possible
MANILA (AFP) – The chief of the Philippines’ main Muslim rebel group warned Tuesday that jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group, flush with looted guns and cash, could seize another Filipino city after Marawi last year.Murad Ebrahim has billed his Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has made peace with the government, as a rival to IS for the hearts and minds of angry young Muslims in the impoverished south of the mainly Catholic nation.

Murad said the MILF was battling pro-IS groups for influence in schools as the jihadists worked to infiltrate madrasas (Islamic religious schools) and secular universities.

At the same time IS gunmen were making their way into the southern Philippines from Malaysia and Indonesia, he added, but gave no estimates.

A five-month siege flattened the city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao, the Philippines’ main Islamic centre, and claimed more than 1,100 lives.

Murad told reporters conditions on the ground were still ripe for another Marawi-style siege.

“This ISIS group continues to penetrate us because they are being displaced in the Middle East and they want to have another place,” Murad said, using an another name for IS.

“The chances of having another Marawi cannot be overruled.”

The Marawi attackers found and looted stockpiles of munitions, cash and jewellery from homes — some owned by MILF members — before the city was retaken by US-backed Filipino troops in October, he said.

“When they (MILF members) fled from Marawi they (could) not bring their vaults. That is where the ISIS was also able to get so much money and now they’re using it for recruitment,” he added.

“It’s very sad. In our country some people say buying weapons and ammunition is just like buying fish in the market.”

The combination of weak central government authority, the presence of rebel groups and long-running blood feuds means Mindanao is awash with weapons, he added.

Manila signed a peace deal with the 10,000-member MILF in 2014 after decades of Muslim rebellion in Mindanao for independence or self-rule that had claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Murad urged President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to speed up the passage of a Muslim self-rule law to flesh out the peace accord, warning pro-IS militants were recruiting for a new attack.

“If the (self-rule law) will not be passed now I think it will develop a situation where these extremist groups can recruit more adherents, because it will prove their theory that there is no hope in the peace process,” he said.

“Since they have the capability also to supply money and then they also have the ability to make explosives, bombs, they can just use these young recruits to work out their plan.”

by Cecil MORELLA

Why the iPhone Is Losing Out to Chinese Devices in Asia

February 19, 2018

Apple’s market share is stagnant or declining in Asia, paving the way for other smartphone makers

Image may contain: phone and screen

NEW DELHI—The iPhone X has set a new benchmark for smartphone prices and bolstered Apple Inc.’s bottom line, but its steep price may be hobbling its future in Asia’s biggest markets and allowing Chinese challengers to grab market share.

Buyers from India to Indonesia are opting for models from Chinese smartphone makers like Xiaomi Corp.—sometimes called “the Apple of China”—along with BBK Electronics Corp.’s Oppo and Vivo.

China’s manufacturers are increasingly churning out higher-priced devices that compete directly with Apple’s smartphones. They often have high-end features, but carry lower price tags than the iPhone X or even older iPhone models. They are targeting potential Apple customers by offering phones with robust hardware such as metal bodies, beefy batteries and unique features iPhones lack, including special cameras for taking better selfies.

“People don’t have to stretch their budget to buy a top-end” smartphone anymore, said Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst with research firm IDC in Singapore. Chinese vendors “now boast features which compete with the top-end in the market.”

The iPhone X or Apple’s older, more affordable models aren’t aimed at the mass market in emerging Asia, where telecom companies don’t subsidize devices as in the U.S., meaning most people pay full price for their phones up front. The typical smartphone in India and Indonesia sells for under $200, which is less than even the least expensive iPhone model and much less than the iPhone X, which costs $1,000, according to IDC.

Apple’s high-price phones helped its revenues grow 11% last quarter in the Asia-Pacific region, even though its market share has been stagnant or declining in most Asian markets.

Abhay Shahi, a 28-year-old graphic designer in the Indian city of Ludhiana, has given up on Apple for good, recently ditching his iPhone 6 for a new Xiaomi Redmi Note 4. It has most of the bells and whistles for about a fifth the price of the iPhone X. It costs about $100 less than Apple’s most affordable model, the SE, which was released in 2016.

“It has a fingerprint sensor, the camera is pretty good, and there’s no lag” in Xiaomi’s software, which is more customizable than that of the “overpriced” iPhone’s, Mr. Shahi said. “The build quality feels like a premium phone.”

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on its strategy for emerging Asian markets or whether it sees Chinese smartphone makers as rivals to the iPhone.

Attendees at a Jan. 31 launch event for the Oppo R11s smartphone in Tokyo walked in front of an advertisement. Oppo, which passed Apple Inc. and Xiaomi Corp. in its home market, plans to introduce the R11s model next month in Japan.Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg News

In China, Apple’s market share is roughly 8% now from 13% in 2015, research firm Canalys says. In India—which last year overtook the U.S. to become the world’s second-biggest smartphone market—Apple has had just a 2% market share since 2013. Apple’s shipments to India fell last quarter compared with the year before, a rare contraction, Canalys says.

The iPhone maker’s market share in Indonesia, home to some 260 million people, has fallen to 1% from 3% in 2013. Apple’s market share has also dropped in the Philippines and Thailand, and has remained static in Malaysia and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Apple’s Chinese rivals are gobbling up customers. Beijing-based Xiaomi has jumped to 19% of India’s market today from just 3% in 2015. While much of that rise has been on the back of inexpensive phones, increasingly it is putting more expensive devices on the market that offer the look, feel and functionality of iPhones and even a few extra features.

Chitra Patricia, a 27-year-old Jakartan, picked an Oppo over Apple for its selfie features.

Oppo’s “selfie expert” F3 offers options such as a front-facing camera for selfies with wide angle that lends itself to “wefies,” or group shots with several people crammed into the frame. The phone also has a “beautify” function that smooths out users’ selfies, making them appear younger and more glamorous.

Previous Coverage

  • China Challenge for the iPhone X: Ending Apple’s Long Sales Slide (Sept. 13, 2017)
  • Good News for Apple: China Still Wants Pricey Phones (Aug. 2, 2017)
  • How to Build Your Own Smartphone — for $70
  • Cheaper Rivals Eat Away at Apple Sales in China (Feb. 1, 2017)

“It can capture around a dozen people in one ‘wefie,’” making it great for gatherings, said Ms. Patricia.

Xiaomi has an edge in many markets because it can customize for each country while Apple creates the same products for everyone, said Jai Mani, Xiaomi’s product manager for India.

Apple has worked to foster the development of mobile apps and mapping services in the country, and iPhones support several local Indian languages.

Xiaomi created special chargers for its smartphones that can handle India’s fluctuations in power supply, for example. And in a country where consumers are flooded by promotional text messages, Xiaomi tweaked its software to weed out advertisements so users don’t miss personal texts from friends.

Many Xiaomi smartphones also come with two SIM-card slots, which allow consumers to use more than one mobile network to save money, a common practice in Asia. Customers can also plug SD memory cards into some models so they can add their own music or video files.

Among the newest India-specific creations, Xiaomi announced at a launch event earlier this week in New Delhi: tweaks to its own selfie-beautification software so it doesn’t erase bindi forehead decorations or nose rings, mistaking them for blemishes.

The Chinese brands also are bringing a lot of local flavor to their advertising. Oppo and its sister company, Vivo, have blanketed Indonesia and India with billboards touting features they offer that aren’t found in iPhones.

Wahyu Adi Setyanto, a 36-year-old IT engineer in Jakarta, traded in his iPhone for a Xiaomi recently. It has a touch screen as big and bright as that of any iPhone, he says, and cost only $210.

“The exterior, when you hold it in your hand, it’s luxurious,” he said. “It feels like holding an iPhone.”

—Anita Rachman in Jakarta contributed to this article.

Write to Newley Purnell at newley.purnell @wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-customers-from-india-to-indonesia-prefer-chinese-devices-to-iphones-1519036203

If you don’t like it here, get out: Why Hong Kong’s downtrodden domestic helpers can never win

February 17, 2018

Yonden Lhatoo asks what hope there is for this marginalised but vital sector when, instead of addressing their grievances, we argue they are welcome to leave if life here is unbearable

By Yonden Lhatoo
South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 February, 2018, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 February, 2018, 10:31pm

“If you don’t like it here, you can always leave, go back to where you came from,” is a regular refrain in Hong Kong to discourage the less fortunate among us from speaking out about their plight.

It has to be the most defeatist argument in defence of existing ills in society and the biggest impediment to progress, this boneheaded belief that only a bona fide son of the soil has the right to complain and anyone else should either just suck it up or go away.

Which is why it’s so disheartening to see a High Court judge, no less, offering the equivalent of this interpretation in the first judicial review of the government rule that forces Hong Kong’s 370,000 foreign domestic helpers to live with the families who hire them.

 The foreign domestic helper community in Hong Kong numbers 370,000 people, mostly women from Indonesia and the Philippines. Photo: David Wong

It was a landmark test case that held out hope to countless women who have to put up with slave-like working and living conditions, but the judge threw out the argument that the live-in rule was unconstitutional.

“It cannot seriously be argued that the imposition of the live-in requirement would directly constitute, or give rise to, a violation of the [foreign domestic helper’s] fundamental rights,” he said. “If, after coming to work in Hong Kong, the foreign domestic helper finds it unacceptable, for any reason, to reside in his/her employer’s residence, it is well within his/her right or power to terminate the employment.”

The courageous Filipino domestic helper who challenged the live-in requirement told her lawyer of hateful messages on social media reminding her that she could always go back home if she found life unbearable here.

The lawyer lamented the similar tone of the court ruling: “The judge effectively said if she didn’t like it she could leave. Outside of the law and in practical consideration, the judge has reinforced the stereotype that domestic helpers are second-class citizens.”

 Anyone other than a foreign domestic helper may qualify for permanent residency in Hong Kong after seven consecutive years of living in the city. Photo: Felix Wong

The live-in rule has long been seen as an enabler of abuse, as in the case of Indonesian domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, whose story of sustained torture and assault at the hands of her employer made global headlines. But our government clings to it as a pillar of labour law, purportedly to prevent illegal employment and protect local menial workers.

The true reason, I strongly suspect, has more to do with race and class stigma. It explains why anyone who has lived in this city for seven consecutive years is automatically entitled to permanent residency, but foreign domestic helpers are permanently ineligible.

The fact is, it’s not only the hired help: many families would much rather their domestic workers didn’t have to share their cramped living space.

It has already been pointed out in court that the live-in rule meets five of the 11 indicators of forced labour identified by the International Labour Organisation: abuse of vulnerability; restriction of movement; isolation; abusive living and working conditions; and excessive overtime. Just that the judge didn’t see it that way.

Of course, there are many domestic helpers in Hong Kong who are treated well by their employers, but we’re talking about the many others who are not. When you’re the sole breadwinner for your family back home and you’re still paying off huge debts to the employment agencies that brought you here, terminating a contract with an abusive boss can be complicated.

Second-class treatment in “Asia’s World City” makes it OK because it’s twice as bad if they go back home? There’s no limit to this asinine line of argument.

Complaining about bus safety? Shut up and catch a train or a cab. Air pollution concerns? Try Beijing or Delhi and see how you like them apples.

Don’t agree with what I’m saying here? Go read something else then.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post.

http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2133654/if-you-dont-it-here-get-out-why-hong-kongs-downtrodden

Indonesia eyes lax palm oil rules in EU trade deal — Wants to continue to harm the environment by crop burning — Jakarta’s goal leaked out in papers marked “not for publication”

February 16, 2018

AFP

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© AFP/File / by Harry PEARL | Palm oil producers in Indonesia stand accused of burning areas of rainforest to make way for plantations, in fires that often spread and devastate the local environment

JAKARTA (AFP) – Palm oil giant Indonesia is pressing the European Union to abandon plans to apply strict environmental standards to the sector and silence “negative” criticism about the commodity, documents obtained by AFP have revealed.The papers, marked “not for publication” and for distribution only on a “need to know” basis, reflect Jakarta’s wish list for a critical industry as the two sides hammer out new rules for a trading relationship worth $35 billion a year.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil — used in everything from food to cosmetics — and vast swathes of rainforest have been destroyed to make way for plantations that are the backbone of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

This annual slash-and-burn clearing threatens endangered species and fuels annual forest fires that plague the region.

Indonesia and the EU kick off a fourth and possibly final round of negotiations — covering a wide range of trade, investment and intellectual property rules — from Monday in the archipelago nation.

The documents outline a call for the EU to apply Jakarta’s own government sustainability standard — despite serious concerns about its credibility — rather than a tougher European certification scheme that was proposed in April last year.

Only a minority of Indonesian palm oil plantations currently even meet Jakarta’s relatively lax standards.

Separately, Indonesia and neighbouring Malaysia — another major palm oil producer — have slammed the European Parliament’s move to ban the use of the commodity in biofuels from 2021.

They say that the ban would devastate rural communities where many small-scale farmers survive by cultivating the crop.

Indonesia’s trade ministry declined to comment on the leaked text, which is dated June 2017.

The last round of talks were in September last year, and it is not clear if the documents reflect Jakarta’s latest position in negotiations, which began in mid-2016.

European Commission officials said they would not comment on an alleged leak. However, they said any final deal would not come at the expense of acceptable environmental or labour standards.

One passage calls for the EU to legislate against “negative” messaging and campaigns with “misleading nutrition, health and/or environmental claims”, in an apparent bid to head off criticism about palm oil’s impact.

The industry frequently accuses rival foreign vegetable oil firms of working with NGOs to launch “black campaigns” against the sector.

However, there is “no question of limiting the possibilities of any entity in the EU to inform consumers about products available in the market”, a Commission spokesman told AFP.

Jakarta also wants the EU to agree that one party must compensate the other for any economic losses “due to the pursuit of sustainability”.

Environmentalists said Jakarta’s call to apply its own sustainability programme demonstrates Indonesia isn’t serious enough about addressing the ecological impact of its palm oil sector.

“The (government standard) is not sufficient enough to ensure sustainability as it allows conversion of natural forest” to plantations, environmental group WWF’s Indonesia office said in a statement after reviewing documents supplied by AFP.

“So, in our mind, (it) does not fulfil (the) EU market requirement of sustainability compliance.”

by Harry PEARL
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Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1.
Fires raged on peatlands on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Nov 1, 2015. Photo: Getty Images
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Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.
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An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo

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