Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

South China Sea: Vietnam takes up fight against China

August 15, 2017

Updated 11:32 PM ET, Mon August 14, 2017

Gregory B. Poling is director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and a fellow with the Southeast Asia Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. The opinions expressed here are solely his.

(CNN)When it comes to the disputed waters of the South China Sea, Vietnam’s leaders must feel very lonely these days.

Their fellow Southeast Asian claimants have either reversed course after years of escalating tensions with Beijing, or are keeping their heads down and letting Hanoi take up the fight.
In June, the Vietnamese government refused a Chinese demand to halt drilling by a subsidiary of Spanish company Repsol in an oil and gas block on Vanguard Bank—an area of the seabed that, as far as international law is concerned, is undisputedly Vietnam’s.
Now Vietnam could be on the hook to Repsol for hundreds of millions of dollars and it will have a hard time convincing other companies that any of its offshore contracts are a smart bet.
Repsol didn’t respond to a CNN request for comment, and Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said its oil and gas activities take place in waters entirely within its sovereign rights.

Military bases destroy reefs in S. China Sea
Military bases destroy reefs in S. China Sea 03:29

Deafening silence

How did Vietnam’s neighbors and the international community respond to this act of bullying by China? With deafening silence.
After pushing back against Chinese coercion for years, the Philippines has turned defeatist under the year-old government of President Rodrigo Duterte. Manila now appears eager to trade silence regarding its maritime claims for economic carrots from Beijing.
Malaysia, whose government is embroiled in corruption allegations and is barreling toward political crisis in the next general election, has little appetite for confrontation with China, an important benefactor.
And Indonesia is happy to occupy a middle ground, resisting at the margins when it comes to Chinese fishing encroachments in its waters, but uninterested in taking a more active role in the disputes.
Even Singapore, which remains deeply skeptical of China’s long-term intentions, is keeping its head down after being made a diplomatic punching bag by Beijing for its perceived support of the Philippines’ international arbitration victory last July.

Divisions on display


The divisions within Southeast Asia were on full display during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Minister’s Meeting earlier this month.
The Philippines, which hosted the summit, and Cambodia wanted to strip out anything that could irritate China. But Vietnam, smarting from the Vanguard Bank incident and convinced that China’s diplomatic softening over the previous year was just a delaying tactic, argued for stronger language.
Its tactics got it singled out in a China Daily editorial, which slammed Hanoi for “hypocritically trying to insert tough language criticizing China’s island building.”
Late on Sunday, the group reached a compromise that reinserted several points from previous ASEAN statements, including concern over recent land reclamation and militarization.
The comprise language in the communique was weaker that some previous statements, particularly the Sunnylands Declaration signed by ASEAN leaders and President Barack Obama in 2016.
But it was stronger than the group’s last statement, issued by Duterte following the ASEAN Summit in April, and helped avoid a repeat of the group’s 2012 debacle when then-host Cambodia blocked the release of any statement at all.

Modest victory


Still, Vietnam had won a modest victory and received a measure of support, even if grudgingly, from its neighbors. But the victory was short-lived.
The next day, Philippine foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano sided with China, telling the press,“I didn’t want to include it. It’s not reflective of the present position. They (China) are not reclaiming land anymore. So why will you put it again this year?”
It was a surprising break for an organization built on consensus. Here was the group’s chair publicly airing disagreements with the supposed consensus and appearing to back an outside power over a fellow ASEAN member.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrives in Manila on August 5, 2017 to attend the ASEAN meeting, where Vietnam urged other Southeast Asian nations to take a stronger stand against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

One-two punch


The one-two punch of China’s successful coercion over Vanguard Bank and ASEAN’s tattered consensus in Manila has left Hanoi exposed.
That isolation, which has been building for months, helps explain why Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich arranged a visit to Washington on the heels of the ASEAN meetings.
Following his meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis, the Pentagon announced that the two had “agreed to deepen defense cooperation, including by expanding maritime cooperation.” They even confirmed plans for a US aircraft carrier to visit Vietnam in the future—something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
Hanoi remains convinced that China’s new charm offensive in the South China Sea is mostly smoke and mirrors—a conclusion strengthened by its recent experiences—and that sooner or later its neighbors will figure it out too. In the meantime, it will look for support wherever it can find it.


Includes video:


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Deepsea Metro I

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Chinese H-6 bomber

 (Is the Philippines just a pawn for China now?)

The ONLY TRULY JOYFUL FACES at the ASEAN conference were provided by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, left, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.  (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)



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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law.

Sending drug dealers to God is my business: Police Chief

August 9, 2017
  • Callistasia Anggun WijayaThe Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Tue, August 8, 2017 | 07:41 pm

Sending drug dealers to God is my business: Jakarta Police chief

Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Idham Azis (center) poses during an award ceremony held on Tuesday, Aug. 8 for police investigators who succeeded in foiling the smuggling of a record-breaking one ton of crystal methamphetamine, or sabu-sabu, in Anyer, Banten in July. (Antara/Reno Esnir)

The newly appointed Jakarta Police chief Insp.Gen. Idham Azis has vowed to combat drug dealers, especially those from other countries, and will take responsibility for his subordinates’ actions if they shoot alleged drug traffickers during raids.

“If the drug dealers want to apologize, it is their business with God. Sending them to God, on the other hand, is my business,” Idham said at the Jakarta Police headquarters on Tuesday.

Idham, who was inaugurated as the Jakarta Police chief on July 26, expressed his appreciation to the team of investigators that thwarted the record-breaking smuggling attempt of one ton of crystal methamphetamine, locally known as sabu-sabu, in Anyer, Banten last month. In the raid, investigators arrested three Taiwanese nationals and shot dead another alleged to have resisted arrest.

He asserted that he would also dismiss his subordinates if they failed to handle the mass drug trafficking in the capital.

Under his leadership, he said he would give all drug units in all police precincts under the Jakarta Police’s authority a month to crack down on drug dealers.

“There will be no compromises. If the drug unit chiefs cannot enforce the law against drug dealers, I will replace them,” he said.

Greater Jakarta has the highest demand for drugs of all provinces in the country, according to the National Narcotics Agency (BNN). The National Police announced that Indonesia had become the main target of international drug syndicates following tougher anti-drug policies imposed by neighboring countries like the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia. (wnd)

Philippines admits wanting land reclamation, militarization out of ASEAN communique

August 8, 2017
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano gestures during a news conference following the conclusion of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings at the Philippine International Convention Center in suburban Pasay city southeast of Manila, Philippines, Tuesday Aug.8, 2017. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines’ top diplomat on Tuesday admitted that he did not want to include concerns on China’s land reclamation and militarization activities in the South China Sea in the ASEAN foreign ministers’ joint communique.

The joint communique issued Sunday evening, however, turned out to mention “non-militarization” and “self-restraint” among the conduct of parties in the disputed waters.

READ: ASEAN stresses self-restraint, non-militarization in South China Sea

The statement appears to be softer than the joint communique issued last year under the chairmanship of Laos. That communique expressed grave concern over China’s militarization of its artificial islands.

“I didn’t want to include it. It’s not reflective of the present position. They’re not reclaiming land anymore. Why will you put it again this year?” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a press briefing.

Cayetano explained that the final joint communique this year was a result of compromise as some ASEAN member states wanted a “stronger” statement on the South China Sea while the others wanted a “weaker” one.

“Whether the land reclamation [statement] was there or not and it is there, the reality on the ground is that people have stopped reclaiming and the reality on the ground is not it’s just not China who did reclamation,” the Philippines’ top diplomat said.

The Foreign Affairs secretary also said the Aquino administration framing the situation in the South China Sea as “Philippines versus China.”

The Philippines, under the Aquino administration, filed an arbitration case before a United Nations-backed tribunal challenging China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea. The international tribunal issued an award in favor of Manila in 2016, invalidating Beijing’s expansive claims over the contested waters.

China not an enemy

Cayetano, on the other hand, said that the Philippines should not see China as its enemy.

“We are not pro-China, pro-US, pro-Japan, pro- whatever. We’re pro-Philippines and we’re pro-ASEAN and because we’re pro-ASEAN and we’re pro-Philippines, we are good friends to China, we are good friends to Japan, we are good friends to US and we will appreciate not being told what to do because we are a sovereign nation,” he said.

The secretary added his position on the comminique was based on the instruction of President Rodrigo Duterte. He stressed that the president never said that he is abandoning the arbitral ruling.

READ: Duterte wants to set aside arbitral ruling — for now

“He never said he’d abandon the decision. He never said tearing it apart,” Cayetano said, adding that Duterte said he would set the ruling aside first but would bring it up at the appropriate time.

Cayetano appears to echo Duterte’s earlier statements that he does not want to go to war with China.

“What I’m driving at is results. Ano ba ang gusto natin away o magkaayos tayo dyan sa South China Sea? Do we want to just pick a fight for the sake of picking a fight or do we want our interest protected in the South China Sea?” Cayetano said.

“It’s not about words or about document, look at the actions. Look at the strength of the relationship, look at the direction,” he added.

Malacañang earlier claimed that the relationship between the Philippines and China have improved more than a year after the arbitration award. Since then, the two countries have started a bilateral consultation mechanism to settle the maritime dispute.



South China Sea: China talking About Long Range Plans with Singapore — Arm Twisting Starts Early

August 8, 2017


HONG KONG (Reuters) – China is worried it could face fresh criticism over its actions in the South China Sea when Singapore becomes chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations next year, and is putting pressure on the city-state to make sure that doesn’t happen, according to people familiar with the situation.

They say that Chinese representatives have told Singapore counterparts in private meetings over recent months that they don’t want trouble for Beijing when Singapore takes over the annual leadership of the 10-nation group in 2018.

Diplomats say they believe that Beijing has used its influence over countries who have chaired ASEAN in the past to dilute the group’s stand on the South China Sea row, potentially one of the most volatile disputes in Asia.

The current chairman is the Philippines, which hosted the group’s foreign ministers last weekend. ASEAN failed to issue its customary statement on Saturday because of what diplomats said was disagreement about whether to make oblique references to China’s rapid expansion of its defense capabilities on artificial islands in disputed waters. The statement was finally issued on Sunday.

A Beijing-based Asian diplomat familiar with the situation said there are concerns that Singapore could use the ASEAN chairman position to try to “internationalise” the South China Sea issue, when China wants it limited to the countries directly involved.

“China thinks Singapore, as a Chinese-majority nation, should listen a bit more to Beijing,” the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

“Beijing has made it very clear to Singapore what it expects on the South China Sea issue,” said another Asian diplomat in Hong Kong who is familiar with the situation.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment for this story.

In a statement sent to Reuters, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said China supported Singapore’s work and “believes Singapore will lead ASEAN to work with China to promote the raising and upgrading of practical cooperation…and build an even closer China-ASEAN community of common destiny”.

Singapore is not a claimant to any disputed part of the South China Sea but is home to the biggest port in Southeast Asia, and has made clear its open economy depends on continued free navigation in the area.

China claims almost the entire sea, which includes one of the world’s most busy trade routes and sits stop valuable oil and gas reserves. Taiwan and four ASEAN states – the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia – have overlapping claims.

The United States says it does not have a position on the South China Sea dispute but will assert freedom of navigation rights in the waterway.


Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan during a meeting in Manila on Sunday that ties had come back on track of late.

    “Relations between China and Singapore have experienced ups and downs. But close exchanges between the two countries’ leaders recently have enhanced mutual trust, which is essential to healthy bilateral relations between China and Singapore,” Wang said, according to China’s foreign ministry.

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Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (L) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a joint press conference

Balakrishnan said the tone of his meeting with Wang was positive, Singapore media reported.

The worry for China is that Singapore has long-standing defense relationships with the United States and its allies, although the city-state says it is equally friendly with Beijing.

China is Singapore’s largest trading partner, and Singapore has been China’s largest foreign investor.

The United States and Singapore announced an enhanced defense relationship in late 2015, which included deployments of long range P-8 surveillance planes out of Singapore – aircraft which frequently track Chinese submarines.

Singapore also has some ties with Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province.

Tensions between the two countries burst into the open last November when Hong Kong port authorities impounded nine Singaporean armored military vehicles being shipped home from training grounds in Taiwan. Hong Kong released the vehicles earlier this year amid rare open debates in both Singapore and China about a deteriorating relationship.

The Global Times, an influential state-run Chinese tabloid, said in June that the once “special relationship” between the two nations was fading away amid mistrust over the South China Sea.

Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University, said there could be differences between the countries once Singapore takes over the ASEAN chairmanship.

When that happens, “China may be less able to force its way with Sino-ASEAN relations,” said Tan, who is a former Singapore foreign service officer and a former nominated member of parliament.

“Singapore is not in a position to tell other countries what to do in regards to their sovereignty but I think we can expect Singapore to take a very robust approach to dealings with China in its capacity as the ASEAN chair.”

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has stressed the importance of abiding by international rules in the South China Sea despite China’s rejection of a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated Beijing’s claims.

Zhang Baohui, a mainland security expert based in Hong Kong, said China questions whether Singapore is sincere when it says it didn’t want to choose between the United States and China.

“There is a view in Beijing that Singapore is the instigator of anti-China containment policies, not just within ASEAN but also that it wants a ring of pro-U.S. partners surrounding China – Japan, India and Australia,” he said.

Reporting By Greg Torode; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Singapore bureau; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Commentary: Hong Kong, a cautionary tale for Singapore, a lesson for the future — Survival of any city-state cannot be taken for granted.

August 6, 2017

Hong Kong offers valuable lessons for Singapore, showing that Singapore must tread a different path if it wants to continue to thrive, argues Woo Jun Jie.

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SINGAPORE: “In my generation, things were simpler … if you worked hard enough, you gained admission to university, more or less you’d be able to find a good job with a good salary, and then a career path in front of you.”

These words could easily pass off as those of an older Singaporean reminiscing about the past and lamenting the stiff competition that young Singaporeans entering the workforce today face.

“But now with the globalisation of the economy, with a lot of competition and other things – that becomes a bit difficult,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam continued, in a recent interview with Channel NewsAsia.

Lam was in Singapore at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and the sentiments she expressed over the challenges resonated with many Singaporeans.

It is clear from Lam’s statement that Hong Kong and Singapore face similar economic challenges. However, their responses to these challenges differ.

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam


Both Singapore and Hong Kong have followed a similar growth trajectory, with both emerging to become Asia’s leading financial powerhouses, riding on the rapid expansion of financial services in Asia over the past three decades.

While Hong Kong’s financial sector has a much longer history than that of Singapore and remains larger in terms of market capitalisation and depth, it is beginning to experience speed bumps in its growth.

As I discussed in an earlier commentary, much of Hong Kong’s current challenges are a result of deficiencies in its public administration.

Once the leader of the pack as the leading Asian tiger economy, it has since fallen behind its competitors. Its fall in prominence as a global financial centre is particularly striking, since financial services have always been Hong Kong’s forte.

Hong Kong’s economic decline is rooted in its falling productivity and innovation. The city fell from 11th position to 14th in the 2016 Global Innovation Index, while growth in labour productivity has fallen to 0.8 per cent over the past four years, compared to an average of 3.6 per cent before the 2009 global financial crisis.

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Anglers fish as a litter collection boat sails past in the waters of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. (Photo: Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

It is striking how similar Hong Kong and Singapore are in so many ways, in terms of the common challenges that both seem to be collectively facing. Given these similarities, are there lessons that Singapore can draw from Hong Kong’s ongoing decline?


Hong Kong and Singapore resemble each other in many other ways, if only because of their remarkably similar history. Both are functioning city-states that have emerged from a history of British colonialism and have retained their British-styled common law and public administration systems.

Although Hong Kong now exists under China’s One Country Two Systems principle, it nonetheless possesses significant autonomy in economic policy.

In terms of economic development, both cities started out as manufacturing bases and shipping hubs but subsequently developed strengths in financial services, tourism and services.

However, this is where the similarity ends.

For Singapore, some of our biggest competitors come from all across the globe, with Seoul and Dubai rivalling our air hub status, and Ireland increasingly giving us a run for our money as an alternative business location. In a highly globalised economy, this is, as they say, par for the course.

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A general view of the departure gates and duty free area at the Emirates’ terminal in Dubai International Airport. (File photo: REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh)

However, if we look at the cause of Hong Kong’s economic challenges, we may be surprised to find that the strong competition that Hong Kong faces emanate from places much closer to its shores. Emerging Chinese financial centres such as Shanghai and Shenzhen in particular are threatening Hong Kong’s traditional role as “gateway” to China.

A case in point is that of container throughput. While Singapore continues to be ranked second, Hong Kong has fallen from fourth to fifth place on the World Shipping Council’s list of top 50 world container ports. It was replaced by Ningbo-Zhoushan, a rising transshipment hub with excellent port infrastructure and strong connectivity to Zhejiang, an emerging economic centre.

While China has long served as Hong Kong’s economic hinterland, it is now ironically throwing up powerful new port cities and financial centres that threaten to eclipse the territory.

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The city of Ningbo, a major port and industrial hub located in eastern China’s Zhejiang province. (Photo: AFP)


Hong Kong’s economic decline and the challenges it faces hold important lessons for Singapore.

Hong Kong’s struggles with emerging competition highlight an ineluctable fact: As the Chinese economy continues to develop and mature, it will be increasingly difficult to compete with Chinese ports and financial centres that are more competitive, more efficient, and more integrated with the rest of China’s economy.

This is particularly the case with nearby Shenzhen, which has emerged to become a thriving finance and innovation hub. In 2014, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences ranked Shenzhen above Hong Kong in its ranking of the most competitive cities in China.

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A view of the skyline of Shenzhen. (File photo: AFP/Samantha Sin)

It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Yet, imitation can ring the death knell for a successful global city, as copycats with easy access to information and expertise can replicate a global city’s strategy for success in a shorter time and possibly with less effort.

Hence, once a city like Hong Kong or Singapore attains economic success in a particular industry, it must quickly move onto another sector to keep ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, such constant movement is the fate of small city-states.

Taking a leaf from the challenges and competition that Hong Kong faces, Singapore needs to enact a paradigm shift and not rely solely on its pole position as the gateway to Southeast Asia. Rather than simply being a gateway to any particular region or emerging market, Singapore needs to continuously rebrand itself as a truly global city that can serve a diverse array of markets and services.

With second-tier cities growing in both market size and expertise, traditional strengths in trade and finance will not be enough to guarantee Hong Kong’s and Singapore’s survival in the global economy.

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The birthplace of leading global electronics companies such as Samsung and LG, Korea is renowned for its cutting-edge technology. (Photo: AFP/Ed Jones)


One way both cities have sought to diversify their offerings is to encourage the growth of innovation and technology, with FinTech being a case in point, so as to bolster their financial services sector, and hedge against potential disruption in this field. In doing so, they are transforming themselves into smart cities.

Yet, in contrast to Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative, Hong Kong’s smart city policy initiatives are much less coherent and Hong Kong continues to lag behind Singapore. While Singapore had introduced its Smart Nation initiative back in 2014, Hong Kong is only just releasing its Smart City blueprint, having spent the past few years commissioning studies and mapping out development plans.

However, smart cities cannot be the silver bullet for sustainable economic growth. Successful global cities such as London and New York are more than simply places to do business. Rather, they are also highly vibrant and liveable cities that are attractive to innovators, movers and shakers of the future global economy.

This will in turn lead to a natural clustering of companies seeking access to highly skilled labour as well as links to other companies, giving rise to new and innovative business solutions. More than simply a clean and aesthetically pleasing environment, however, a successful global city needs to possess a strong cultural identity.

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Tokyo’s edgy art scene is scattered across the city in bathhouses, backstreets and skyscrapers. (File photo: AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)


As Singapore’s thriving arts scene shows, a city’s cultural activities can both generate economic revenue, in terms of tourism, and perhaps more importantly, strengthen its cultural identity. It is this cultural identity that imbues great cities with long-term economic vibrancy and grants them confidence on the global stage.

At a more fundamental level, a vibrant arts and culture scene also serves to attract both top talent and industry leaders who are able to shape emerging cultural and economic trends. More than simply providing recreation and aesthetic value, the arts can truly build up Singapore’s cultural milieu and attractiveness as a global city.

The challenges faced by Hong Kong suggest that in an increasingly competitive global economy that is dominated by large and better-resourced nation-states, the survival of any city-state cannot be taken for granted.

Going forward, this softer aspect of urban economic development will prove crucial to both Hong Kong and Singapore. There is an urgent need for urban differentiation and for a new economic strategy.

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The value of fintech investment in Singapore increased significantly in the second quarter of 2017, compared to a year ago, despite fewer deals being completed. (Photo: TODAY)

This will require moving up the value chain to provide services that these emerging cities are not yet able to through a form of a smart city transformation. Hence, Singapore needs to move beyond the hamster wheel of economic upscaling to truly rethink what its value proposition is, especially in light of other competing cities that can easily replicate our recipe for success.

Fostering a vibrant and unique cultural milieu will set Singapore apart from other economic powerhouses and enhance its attractiveness as a global city. A vibrant arts and culture scene will be essential for this.

In order to do this, the city-state must master both the art and the heart of governance. While Singapore’s physical infrastructure is crucial for its economic performance, it is the city-state’s cultural identity that will give it soul and long-term vibrancy.

Woo Jun Jie is an assistant professor in the Public Policy and Global Affairs Programme of Nanyang Technological University and Rajawali Fellow at the John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He is the author of the newly released book, 3-in-1: Governing a Global Financial Centre, published by World Scientific.

Source: CNA/sl

Indonesian military officer orders that forest burners be shot — authorities struggle to contain fires that cause choking smoke in the region

August 5, 2017

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An Indonesian ranger inspecting the peat forest fire at Meulaboh, Aceh province. PHOTO: AFP 

JAKARTA (REUTERS) – A military official in the Indonesian province of Jambi said on Saturday (Aug 5) that he has ordered that anyone who deliberately sets fire to forest areas be shot, as the authorities struggle to contain fires that cause choking smoke in the region.

Five Indonesian provinces have declared emergencies because of forest fires, according to Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), with the number of hotspots steadily increasing in many areas over the past week.

The BNPB is working with many government branches, including the military, to contain the fires.

Indonesian media have reported that the authorities in the neighbouring province of South Sumatra, also on the island of Sumatra, had issued the same order.

“This is to stress a point to the people, who have been warned many, many times,” said Colonel Refrizal, commander of the forest fire task force in Jambi. “(This is) to show our firmness and seriousness.”

The order would be carried out “responsibly”, said Refrizal, who goes by one name.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Twitter the Jambi task force was working to extinguish a fire covering an area of 10 hectares (25 acres).

Nugroho also said the authorities had found one area in Jambi that had been “intentionally” burned by its owner.

The number of hotspots had increased to 239 by July 30, from 173 hotspots three days earlier, according to the BNPB.

The hotspots were seen mostly on Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island, with some also on Sumatra and Java island.

The agency had previously warned that the threat of forest fires would escalate, with the dry season expected to peak in September.

Indonesia is regularly hit by forest fires, which can result in choking smoke blowing across to neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia.

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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

The sprawling South-east Asian archipelago suffered some of its worst forest fires in 2015, hitting Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The World Bank, citing government data, said 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of land in Indonesia burned between June and October 2015, causing US$16 billion (S$21.7 billion) of estimated economic damage.

Draining and conversion of peatland, often driven by palm oil plantations, contributed to the intensity of haze from the fires, the World Bank said.


 (Contains links to several related articles)

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Carbon monoxide concentrations world-wide during the Indonesian burning season, 2015


Asean diplomats express grave concern on North Korean nuclear and weapons programs

August 5, 2017

By  – @inquirerdotnet

 / 04:11 PM August 05, 2017
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Asean foreign ministers link hands “The Asean Way” at the opening ceremony of the 50th Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting at the Philippine International Convention Center Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 in Metro Manila. They are (from left) Malaysia’s Anifah Aman, Myanmar’s U Kyaw Tin, Thailand’s Don Pramudwinai, Vietnam’s Pham Binh Minh, Philippines’ Alan Peter Cayetano, Singapore’s Vivian Balakrishnan, Brunei’s Lim Jock Seng, Cambodia’s Prak Sokhonn, Indonesia’s Retno Marsudi, Laos’ Saleumxay Kommasith and ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh. (AP Photo/Mohd Rasfan, Pool)

The ongoing escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula is “seriously” threatening peace, security and stability in the region and the world,” the Asean Foreign Ministers said on Saturday.

READ: Southeast Asian diplomats open talks in Manila

The top diplomats who met at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), issued in a statement their “grave concerns” over the heightening tensions in the Korean Peninsula, citing the recent testing by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM)  and previous ballistic missile launches and two nuclear tests in 2016.

The foreign ministers “strongly” urged the DPRK to immediately comply fully with its obligations under all relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.

They also “strongly” called on the DPRK, as a participant of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF), to positively contribute to realize the ARF vision to maintain the Asia-Pacific as a region of lasting peace.

The ARF, an annual security conference, will be held in Manila on Monday.

“We reiterate our support for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner, call for the exercise of self-restraint, and underscore the importance of creating conditions conducive for dialogue to de-escalate tensions,” the foreign ministers said.

They also expressed support initiatives to improve inter-Korean relations toward establishing permanent peace in the Korean Peninsula.

“ASEAN stands ready to play a constructive role in contributing to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula,” they said. JPV

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Singapore PM’s Nephew Says Will Not Return Home to Face Charges

August 5, 2017

SINGAPORE — The nephew of Singapore’s prime minister, who faces contempt of court proceedings for comments he made suggesting the city-state’s courts were not independent, said he would not be returning to Singapore.

The office of Singapore’s attorney general said on Friday it would begin contempt of court proceedings against Li Shengwu, a U.S.-based academic, over Facebook posts he made on July 15. The legal move is the latest twist in a family feud over the fate of the house left by the late Singapore founding father Lee Kwan Yew that gripped the nation last month.

In his post, Li, nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and a son of Lee’s brother, Lee Hsien Yang, described the Singapore government as “litigious” and its courts as “pliant”.

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Li Shengwu

Li, 32, is currently a junior fellow at Harvard University and told Reuters on Saturday from the United States he expected to start an assistant professor position with the university in the fall of 2018.

He said he would defend himself through legal representation in Singapore but would not return to the country.

“I have no intention of going back to Singapore. I have a happy life and a fulfilling job in the U.S.,” he said in an interview.

Li said the prosecution against him was “politically motivated”.

“The Attorney General’s Chambers explicitly mentioned both my family relationships and recent political events in their cease and desist letter,” said Li.

“I would like to spend my time doing research, but have somehow been swept into my uncle Lee Hsien Loong’s personal political vendetta.”

Spokespeople for the Prime Minister’s Office were not immediately available for comment on Saturday.


In a statement on Friday, the attorney general’s chambers said it had previously instructed Li to remove the post and issue a letter of apology acknowledging that his comments about the judiciary were baseless.

It said since Li had failed to meet those requirements by the stipulated deadline of 0900 GMT, Friday, which had been pushed back from July 28 at Li’s request, it had filed the contempt proceedings in High Court.

Earlier on Friday, Li said on Facebook he had amended his original July 15 post to clarify any misunderstandings. However, he said he did not believe the post was in contempt of court.

Li’s July 15 post was shared on a privacy setting that allows content to only be viewed by his Facebook friends. He said on Friday the intent of that post was to convey the “international media were restricted in their ability to report” on a recent feud between Prime Minister Lee and his siblings “due to the litigious nature” of the government.

“It is not my intent to attack the Singapore judiciary or to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice,” he said.

The public spat between the Lee siblings, children of Lee Kuan Yew, flared in June over the future of the family home, in which Lee Kuan Yew, who died at the age of 91 in 2015, lived for most of his life.

Lee Hsien Yang and sister Lee Wei Ling accused their elder brother of abusing power to try to save the house as a historic monument in defiance of his father’s wishes. That prompted the prime minister to call an extraordinary special sitting of parliament in July to “clear the air” over an issue that some people say has tarnished Singapore’s image.

(Reporting by Sam Holmes; Editing by Alex Richardson and Bill Tarrant)

See also:

Mr Li Shengwu on Saturday (Aug 5) shared his response to the Attorney-General’s Chambers on Facebook, in which he reiterated that his earlier post, when taken in context, is not in contempt of court.

The AGC had on Friday filed an application in the High Court to begin proceedings for contempt of court against Mr Li, 32, the eldest son of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The impending proceedings involve a Facebook post Mr Li published on July 15, which the AGC said was an “egregious and baseless attack” on the judiciary. It asked that Mr Li delete the post, and sign and publish a written apology on his Facebook page.


In Singapore, Family Feud Deepens Over Facebook Posts

BANGKOK — Singapore’s government has been trying for two weeks to get the Harvard economist Li Shengwu, a grandson of Singapore’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, to apologize for comments he made in a private Facebook post that were seen as critical of the country’s leadership.

The Singapore attorney general’s office even drafted an apology letter for Mr. Li to sign, in which he would admit to contempt of court and to making what it called “false and baseless” statements.

But on Friday, Mr. Li declined to give in to the demands of the government, which is led by his uncle, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and refused to sign the apology. In the Facebook post last month, he said that some foreign news outlets engaged in self-censorship when covering the prime minister because of the threat of legal action in Singapore.

The dispute is the latest in a bitter family drama that has riveted the city-state and raised questions about the legacy of Mr. Lee, Singapore’s first prime minister, and how the nation should be governed after 58 years of one-party rule.

In refusing to apologize, Mr. Li said Friday in a new Facebook post, this one public, that his criticism of Singapore for suppressing press freedom was aimed at the government, not the courts. “It is not my intent to attack the Singapore judiciary or to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice,” he wrote. “Any criticism I made is of the Singapore government’s litigious nature, and its use of legal rules and actions to stifle the free press.”

The sparring comes as Singapore’s most prominent family has been battling over Lee Kuan Yew’s wish that the family home where he lived for nearly 70 years be demolished after his death. He died in 2015 at 91. Two of Mr. Lee’s three children have accused their elder brother, the prime minister, of abusing his power to try to save the house as a historic monument, in defiance of their father’s will. The prime minister’s motive, they said, was to bolster his own legitimacy and further the possibility of a Lee family dynasty, charges he has denied.

The dispute turned into a public spectacle last month when Mr. Lee devoted two days to parliamentary discussion of his siblings’ complaints against him. “In Singapore, everyone is equal before the law,” he told Parliament. “When the dust has settled on this unhappy episode, people must know that the government in Singapore operates transparently, impartially and properly.”

The government continues to monitor criticism, including comments from the prime minister’s nephew at Harvard.

Mr. Li is the son of Lee Hsien Yang, the prime minister’s younger brother and chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore. Mr. Li’s father has said he plans to leave Singapore indefinitely for fear of retribution.

Singapore’s leaders have long turned to the courts to limit free speech by filing costly defamation lawsuits against citizens and international news outlets.

In the Facebook post last month viewable only to friends, Mr. Li referred to this practice and included a link to a 2010 commentary in The New York Times on the government’s use of the law to limit criticism. After someone took a screenshot of the post and circulated it, state-run news media picked up on it and published it widely.

Read the rest:

Stolen Emails Show Ties Between U.A.E. Envoy and 1MDB Fund’s Central Figure — Misappropriation of $4.5 billion from a Malaysian state development fund

August 5, 2017

Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba had longstanding ties to a financier the U.S. says is at the center of a scandal surrounding a Malaysian state development fund

The relationship between Yousef Al Otaiba and a Malaysian financier is drawing new scrutiny.
The relationship between Yousef Al Otaiba and a Malaysian financier is drawing new scrutiny. PHOTO: PATRICK T. FALLON/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S., is a high-profile power player in Washington, trying to shape American policy toward the Middle East and lobbying over a regional dispute with Qatar.

He is also being drawn deeper into a major global corruption scandal.

Newly released stolen emails show a long-running relationship between Mr. Otaiba and Jho Low, a Malaysian financier who U.S. law-enforcement officials say is at the center of the misappropriation of $4.5 billion from a Malaysian state development fund.

That relationship is drawing new scrutiny from U.S., Swiss and Singaporean authorities, according to people familiar with the probes. The stolen emails show Mr. Otaiba and Shaher Awartani, his Jordanian partner, discussing inquiries from those countries about transactions they received from entities investigators say are connected to Mr. Low.

In one email, Mr. Awartani suggested buying a Ferrari after what Mr. Otaiba described as a “transfer from Jho.”

“I think we each deserve to buy a nice toy in celebration, what do you think ?? The 458 ITALIA maybe?,” Mr. Awartani wrote to Mr. Otaiba in 2009.

Mr. Otaiba responded that buying such “toys” in Abu Dhabi “will just attract unnecessary attention.” Messrs. Awartani and Otaiba both declined to comment. The probes are continuing.

The group that says it obtained the stolen emails and showed them to The Wall Street Journal, Global Leaks, declined to identify its members or say how they got the communications. In a statement to the Journal, Global Leaks said it wanted to “expose corruption, financial frauds which are done by rich governments.”

The Journal reported in June that companies connected to Mr. Otaiba received $66 million from entities investigators say acted as conduits for money allegedly stolen from the state investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB. The Journal cited court and investigative documents and emails Mr. Otaiba wrote.

A 1MDB spokesman declined to comment. The fund has denied any funds were misappropriated or any wrongdoing on its part. It pledged to cooperate with any “lawful” investigation. Malaysian authorities cleared the fund of wrongdoing, but it remains under investigation in the U.S. and several other countries.

Jho Low, a Malaysian financier, seen in 2014 during an event in New York.
Jho Low, a Malaysian financier, seen in 2014 during an event in New York. PHOTO: DEBBY WONG/CORBIS

Mr. Low hasn’t been accused of a crime and has denied wrongdoing. A Low spokeswoman said the leaked emails created a “biased and inaccurate picture.”

Mr. Otaiba has been a key figure in U.S.-U.A.E. relations for years. Diplomats and officials in Washington know him for power lunches at Cafe Milano and lavish gatherings at his residence.

The emails detail Mr. Otaiba’s sizable personal wealth, including millions of dollars of shares in Palantir Technologies, a data-analysis company that has numerous contracts with the U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement community, and the Carlyle Group investment firm.

Lately, Mr. Otaiba has become a frequent source of advice to President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, on Middle East policy, people familiar with the matter said. He has also urged the Trump administration to back efforts by the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries to isolate Qatar, which they accuse of supporting Islamist terror groups like al Qaeda. Qatar says it doesn’t fund terror.

Mr. Otaiba in July issued a statement denying media reports that the U.A.E. had participated in an alleged scheme to hack Qatar government websites and post fake quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir.

The U.A.E. Embassy in Washington declined to comment about the emails stolen from Mr. Otaiba except to say they were part of a campaign by political opponents to smear him.

They also acknowledged that Mr. Otaiba has private business interests outside his diplomatic role.

The people familiar with the 1MDB investigations in Switzerland, Singapore and the U.S. said officials are looking into the circumstances of the transfers to companies controlled by Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani, and whether they bought assets with funds originating from 1MDB.

The stolen emails appear to show Mr. Otaiba using his diplomatic influence to persuade banks to give loans, saying it was important for U.A.E.-Malaysian relations.

In one, from September 2014, Mr. Otaiba encouraged Abu Dhabi banks to participate in a short-term refinancing loan being arranged by Deutsche Bank for 1MDB. The emailed request was identical to a draft sent to Mr. Otaiba from Eric Tan, an associate of Mr. Low, that was seen by the Journal.

“We appreciate your attention and commitment to successfully executing this facility,” Mr. Otaiba wrote to the banks, according to the stolen emails.

In a recent civil-asset forfeiture filing, the Justice Department said about $700 million of a $975 million Deutsche Bank loan to 1MDB was embezzled, with some of that money allegedly used by Mr. Low to buy jewelry for his then-girlfriend, Australian model Miranda Kerr. Several Abu Dhabi banks provided funds for the Deutsche Bank loan to 1MDB, people familiar with the deal said.

Singapore investigative documents reviewed by the Journal show a $3 million payment to a British Virgin Islands company controlled by Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani a few days before the email from Mr. Tan, and another $13 million payment to the same company two months later. The sender of both payments was a British Virgin Islands company owned by Mr. Tan that the Justice Department says distributed money embezzled from 1MDB, including the Deutsche Bank loan, according to the civil asset-forfeiture filing.

Efforts to reach Mr. Tan were unsuccessful. His whereabouts are unknown. He hasn’t commented before on the matter.

Another email, from December 2009, shows Mr. Otaiba urging Thomas Barrack Jr. , the billionaire founder of Colony Capital in California, to accept a bid from a hotel operator partly owned by Mr. Low’s family trust to buy L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills. Colony Capital owned the hotel.

“I’m contacting you today to endorse this bid as the U.A.E. ambassador but also as someone who understands that the full weight of a major investment entity is behind this project,” he wrote.

Mr. Barrack Jr. responded in an email that he would get back to him.

Mr. Low’s private investment company eventually bought the hotel in 2010 for more than $45 million. The Justice Department has filed civil-asset-forfeiture suits seeking to seize the hotel, alleging it was bought with stolen 1MDB funds.

Mr. Barrack said Mr. Otaiba was a friend and that the winning bid for the hotel was the highest offered.

Scrutiny of Mr. Otaiba’s U.S., Swiss and Singaporean accounts appeared to kick off in 2015, when several countries were starting 1MDB-related probes. Swiss private bank Lombard Odier began demanding more information about transfers to accounts controlled by Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani, according to the newly released emails reviewed by the Journal.

“We need to work with them to make this go away,” wrote Tobias Pfister, a former Credit Suisse banker based in Dubai who the emails show handled finances for Mr. Otaiba and Mr. Awartani, his Jordanian partner. He specified he was referring to Lombard Odier’s queries. Mr. Pfister told Mr. Otaiba in the email that Mr. Low had instructed Msrss. Otaiba and Mr. Awartani to close bank accounts and answer queries about the accounts and payments in person—“no emails.”

A few weeks later, Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani closed their accounts and moved funds elsewhere, according to the stolen emails that showed this request and confirmation.

The bank said it was cooperating with “any and all inquiries from regulatory and law enforcement authorities” related to 1MDB. Mr. Pfister declined to comment.

Writing from an e-mail address affiliated with the island of St. Helena in May, Mr. Low wrote Mr. Awartani asking how to get in touch quickly. “Need to speak as questions being asked. Want to ensure coordinated,” according to the stolen emails, which were forwarded to Mr. Otaiba.

It is unclear if they ever spoke.

Write to Bradley Hope at and Tom Wright at

Appeared in the August 2, 2017, print edition as ‘Stolen Emails Tie Envoy to 1MDB.’


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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that state fund 1MDB has cleared over 3 billion ringgit (S$947.1 million) in debt over the past two years. He had chaired 1MDB’s advisory board until it was dissolved in May 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

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Victoria’s Secret Angel Miranda Kerr walks the runway in 2012.


Asia security forum to push social media use to fight extremism

August 5, 2017


AUGUST 5, 2017 / 1:24 AM

By Manuel Mogato

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A man use a mobile phone to take pictures of his friend beside an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) parked near the venue of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines August 4, 2017. Reuters photo

MANILA (Reuters) – More than two dozen Asian countries will agree to utilize social media to counter the spread of violent extremism in the region, according to a draft statement being prepared ahead of a top security gathering on Monday.

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and from 17 dialogue partner-countries are expected to create a regional mechanism to address the security threat.

“The ministers expressed strong condemnation of recent acts of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” said the draft chairman’s statement seen by Reuters, reflecting discussions expected at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila.

“They also took note of the need to make full and effective use of social media to counter the spread of terrorists’ narratives online.”

The ARF is expected to discuss creating a mechanism to boost efforts on Security of Information Communication Technology, which Japan, Malaysia and Singapore have volunteered to lead.

The Philippines, which is hosting the ASEAN meetings, is among those most affected. Authorities have said Islamic State’s radical ideology is taking a hold in the country’s south, with local groups using social media as a primary means of recruiting fighters, which include Indonesians, Singaporeans and Malaysians.

Image result for Armoured Personnel Carrier, Manila, philippines, August 2017, photos

Motorists drive past an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) parked near the venue of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines August 4, 2017. Romeo Ranoco

Philippine troops have been battling Islamist militants who seized control of parts of the mainly Muslim Marawi City more than two months ago. Close to 700 people have died and more than 400,000 displaced in the intense fighting.

Philippine authorities believe the problem goes beyond Marawi and militants may be preparing to attack other cities.

ASEAN ministers were ready to act because they have seen how extremists exploited social media to promote their ideology, recruit and inspire attacks, a senior Philippines foreign ministry official familiar with the issue told Reuters.

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“They spread violent videos on Twitter and Facebook and communicate through Telegram messaging apps,” he said, adding the ministers decided to counter the threat using those same platforms.

Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, Philippine military spokesman, said many countries were making progress in that regard but “there is a need for ASEAN to do more.”

“We can do more beyond the traditional military cooperation,” he said, acknowledging support from Indonesia and Malaysia through information and intelligence exchanges and coordinated maritime border patrols.

“This is a very robust engagement that we wish to increase not only with Indonesia and Malaysia,” he said. “This challenge that we face in Marawi has its effects also in the whole region.”

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Bill Tarrant


© AFP/File | Telegram is a free Russian-designed messaging app that lets people exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people