Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

Philippine troops kill two militant leaders allied to IS group

October 16, 2017


© Ferdinandh Cabrera, AFP | Smoke billows from houses after aerial bombings by Philippine air force planes on Islamist militant positions in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on September 17.


Latest update : 2017-10-16

Philippine troops killed two leaders of a militant alliance in an operation in southern Marawi City on Monday, the defence minister said, a big boost to a military battling to contain the spread of Islamic State’s radical ideology.

Isnilon Hapilon, Islamic State’s anointed “emir” in Southeast Asia, and Omarkhayam Maute, one of two Middle East-educated brothers at the helm of the militant alliance, were killed in an operation based on information from a recently rescued hostage.

“Following their operational plan, they (troops) were able to go this morning… they were killed,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters.

“We were able to get a testimony from a hostage. She was able to confirm the presence of Isnilon and Maute in that particular building. That’s the building that we assaulted early this morning.”

Their deaths will be a major win for the military, which has been criticised for its slow progress in retaking Marawi, the country’s only Muslim majority city, and the ease at which rebels laid siege to it on May 23.

Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have been displaced by the fighting, which the authorities say has killed 813 rebels, 47 civilians and 162 military. Child soldiers and teenagers are among the militant fighters.

The rebel occupation of the heart of Marawi has been the biggest internal security crisis in the Catholic-majority Philippines for years, compounding fears that Islamic State’s ideology and its advanced recruitment methods are more prevalent on the island of Mindanao than was previously imagined.

Another leader, Abdullah Maute, the group’s military commanders, was reported by the army to have been killed in August, though no body was found to prove his death. Lorenzana said the military was trying to locate another rebel commander, Malaysian operative Mahmud Ahmad.

The leaders have been central to the rebels regrouping,re-arming and recruiting after previous clashes over the past two years with the Maute group, a well-funded, family-led extremist group that emerged from relative obscurity.

The Dawla Islamiya rebel alliance is comprised of fighters from the Maute group from Hapilon’s radical faction of Abu Sayyaf, and aided by foreigners from countries that include Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and some Middle East states.

Experts say foreigners have been instrumental in recruiting for the movement, preying on disenfranchised youth.

End is near

Lorenzana said the battle for Marawi could be over imminently, adding that 17 hostages were rescued on Monday. He said it was premature to discuss lifting martial law in Mindanao, which is in place until the end of the year.

“The indication here is that the Marawi incident is close to the end. We may announce the termination of hostilities in the couple of days.”

Lorenzana said he and President Rodrigo Duterte postponed a trip to Marawi on Monday when troops informed them an operation to kill Maute and Hapilon was in place.

The insurgents have surprised the military by their organisation, combat capability and their endurance of more than 130 days of ground offensives and air strikes from fighter jets, bombers and attack helicopters.

Philippine troops have been supported by U.S. and Australian technical support, including use of surveillance planes.

Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Philippine Institute for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said Monday’s operation was a “tremendous setback” to the pro-Islamic state groups in the region, but warned the battle against extremism was far from over.

“The death of the two leaders shall not make our law enforcement complacent,” he told news channel ANC.

“We have seen many times in the past, the death of key leaders will not prevent the terrorist organisations from wreaking havoc.”

Banlaoi said retaliatory attacks can be expected from deputies of the militant leadership, who would assume control of the networks. He said intelligence should be strengthened, and efforts made to tackle recruitment.



The Big Winner From China’s Foreign-Aid Frenzy: China

October 11, 2017

Beijing’s development assistance generally also lands deals for the country’s companies

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BEIJING—When Ghana sought to build a hydroelectric dam in the early 2000s, it failed to get World Bank backing. Then China stepped forward.

The Bui Dam was built through China’s brand of foreign aid: roughly half of the $600 million cost came as aid-like financing on favorable terms; the other half, commercial loans to be repaid with the proceeds from cocoa production.

China’s blurring of charity and business was examined in a new study from AidData, a research center based at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, which tallied 4,400 Chinese foreign-development projects from 2000 to 2014. AidData estimates one-fifth of the $362.1 billion took the form of Chinese government grants or other aid. Another one-fifth was too murky to determine whether it was aid or business. The remaining transactions were mostly commercial in nature.

China’s hybrid development model is playing a growing role, as Beijing begins its enormous “Belt and Road” infrastructure push across Asia, the Middle East and Africa. At $1 trillion, its projected cost is more than seven times that of America’s Marshall Plan for Europe’s post-World War II reconstruction, in today’s dollars.

Helping Hand? / China overseas development funding, 2000-2014. Source: AidData

Beijing’s ambition has funded pricey projects that might otherwise draw few backers, such as the Gwadar port in Pakistan and a data center in Djibouti, home to China’s first overseas naval base. But China has drawn criticism for financing authoritarian regimes and countries with unsustainable debt, such as Venezuela.

China has cast Belt and Road as a humanitarian effort, as well as a means to forge trade routes and strategic alliances. In May, China said it would spend 60 billion yuan ($9.1 billion) on assistance to Belt and Road countries in the next three years, including on emergency food aid and poverty alleviation.

The U.S. and other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries define foreign aid, or “official development assistance,” as transactions that are at least 25% grant.

May 15: China is trying to build excitement around Xi Jinping’s ‘Belt and Road’ plan to expand trade with roads, railways and ports. Photo: Thomas Peter/Reuters

But for China, development assistance generally also lands business for its companies—a dual role that Beijing views as a win-win rather than a conflict, says Evan Ellis, a U.S. Army War College professor who studies China’s engagement in South America.

“The Chinese don’t just give loans,” he said. “They are almost all tied to using Chinese companies as subcontractors.”

China’s commerce ministry and the Export-Import Bank of China didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment. China has said its foreign assistance is based on mutual benefit and noninterference in the internal affairs of the recipient countries.

The U.S. and other member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based research body, agreed in 1978 to restrict the practice of requiring aid recipients to purchase goods and services, and to limit how aid can be mixed with commercial financing, said Brad Parks, AidData’s executive director. China isn’t a member of the OECD, so isn’t bound by the agreement.

Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference—a political advisory body that includes some of China’s wealthiest businesspeople—and Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama cutting a ribbon at the opening of a gas project in the Ghanaian capital of Accra in April of 2016.Photo: Ju Peng/Zuma Press

“This practice has raised serious alarm among countries that do not blend their development finance and trade finance,” said Mr. Parks.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank warned in its annual competitiveness report this summer that the agreement may suffer from China’s use of “mixed credits,” which combine regular export credits with aid or aid-like loans.

Image may contain: mountain, sky, ocean, outdoor, nature and water

Bui Dam under construction

The result is financing packages that countries adhering to the OECD agreement can’t match, the report said.

Deborah Brautigam, director of the China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, said the U.S. had used foreign aid to boost exports for many years before unlinking the two areas.

China Reaches Out

  • Western Firms Bet Big on China’s Multibillion-Dollar Infrastructure Project (May 14, 2017)
  • Tightened Belt: China Skimps on Its Grand Trade Plan (May 9, 2017)
  • Beijing Spins a Web of Chinese Infrastructure (Jan. 16, 2017)
  • China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Takes to Space (Dec. 28, 2016)
  • China Builds First Overseas Military Outpost (Aug. 19, 2016)
  • Chinese-Pakistani Project Tries to Overcome Jihadists, Droughts and Doubts (April 10, 2016)
  • China Makes Multibillion-Dollar Down-Payment on Silk Road Plans (April 21, 2015)
  • China Readies $46 Billion for Pakistan Trade Route (April 16, 2015)

“We know these tricks,” said Ms. Brautigam. “These are all the same tricks that we had used.”

Defenders of China’s development model say countries gain valuable infrastructure that otherwise might not have been funded.

 Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

When Ghana sought to build its first dam in the 1960s, the U.S. and World Bank mobilized for the project, fearing in those Cold War days that the mineral-rich area would fall under Soviet sway. But by the early 2000s, public opinion in the West had turned against dam-building, making the World Bank reluctant to take on new projects like Ghana’s second dam, said Julian Kirchherr, an assistant professor in sustainable development at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

China’s Sinohydro Corp. completed Ghana’s Bui Dam in 2013. In August, the Ghana Cocoa Board told the country’s parliament it was in financial distress due to obligations that including servicing the Bui Dam loan.

—Xiao Xiao and Yang Jie contributed to this article.

Write to Eva Dou at


© AFP/File | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) during a welcoming ceremony on January 23, 2016 in the capital Tehran

 (Enslavement Project?)


China is the nation gaining the most, so China should step up to pay for a greater share of the planned railway network, the Thai transport minister said less than a month agao

China leads the way: Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai inspecting a model at the launch of China High Speed Rail Exhibition at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in December last year. It is undeniable that China garners the most support in the bid for the HSR project, beating countries such as Japan.

China leads the way: Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai inspecting a model at the launch of China High Speed Rail Exhibition at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in December last year. It is undeniable that China garners the most support in the bid for the HSR project, beating countries such as Japan.



Indonesia investigates Standard Chartered over $1.4 billion transfer

October 10, 2017


AKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia is investigating reports that $1.4 billion held by Standard Chartered Plc (STAN.L) in Guernsey, mainly on behalf of Indonesian clients, was transferred to Singapore just before the island moved to new tax transparency rules, tax and regulatory officials said.

Image result for Standard Chartered, photos

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Guernsey’s Financial Services Commission were looking into that movement of assets in late 2015 – months before the Channel Island adopted a global framework for the exchange of tax data.

Under those rules, countries automatically share annual reports on accounts belonging to people subject to taxes in each country. Britain, Guernsey and Singapore have all signed up, but Guernsey implemented the rules ahead of Singapore.

The investigation was first reported by Bloomberg, which cited anonymous sources saying that Standard Chartered reported the matter itself to the regulators. It said the sources said regulators were looking into Standard Chartered’s processes, but had not suggested the bank colluded with clients to evade tax.

Standard Chartered said last year that it was to close its trust operations in Guernsey and centralize that part of its business in Singapore.

A Standard Chartered bank in London. The lender told regulators about a transfer made before global transparency rules were adopted. CreditStefan Wermuth/Reuters

Standard Chartered declined to comment. A MAS spokesperson said in a statement: “As our supervisory probe is still ongoing, we are unable to provide more information at this juncture.”

Indonesian and other regulators have not identified the customers or given information about concerns about the funds.

“We are now checking their annual tax reports, as well as their report of assets, for those who participated in the (Indonesian) tax amnesty,” Hestu Yoga Saksama, a spokesman for Indonesia’s tax office, said.

“If those assets are reported in annual reports or declared during the tax amnesty, it surely means there are no problems. But if they were not, we are going to follow up under the prevailing regulations.”

Ken Dwijugiasteadi, the head of the tax office, later told a news conference on Monday that 81 clients were involved in the transfer, including 62 who were tax amnesty participants, and none were government officials, law enforcement officers or in the military.

”We will look for possible tax crimes, but any other criminal probe is not my business,” he said, adding that his office hoped to finish the investigation this month.

Heru Kristiyana, the deputy commissioner for banking at Indonesia’s financial regulator (OJK), told Reuters by text message on Monday that a supervisor was investigating the issue.

He said the regulator was co-ordinating with the director general of taxation and the anti-money laundering agency, the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPTAK).

A spokesman at PPTAK had no immediate comment, while the anti-corruption agency did not immediately respond.

Singapore and Indonesia said in July they were ready to share financial data automatically for tax purposes.

Both countries could start exchanging financial information from next year if they introduce the necessary legislation, Indonesia’s Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati has said.

The Indonesian government launched a tax amnesty scheme last year to improve compliance and to encourage tax payers to bring back billions of dollars stashed abroad. Most of the offshore assets declared by taxpayers during the amnesty program were kept in Singapore.

Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Kanupriya Kapoor and Anshuman Daga; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clara Ferreira-Marques, Neil Fullick and Jane Merriman

Asia markets gain after Wall Street notches up records

October 3, 2017


© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP | People take cover at a country music festival in Las Vegas after a mass shooting left at least 59 dead and hundreds injured

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets gained Tuesday following fresh records on Wall Street, with investors cheered by the release of strong economic data.All three US indices ended at records, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 0.7 percent Monday.

Analysts said the markets were unaffected by a mass shooting at a Las Vegas hotel that left at least 59 dead and hundreds injured.

“The global markets trudge on searching for opportunities realising these tragedies are becoming all too commonplace,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA.

“And as cynical as that may seem, that is the reality we’ve come to accept,” he added.

US manufacturing activity rose to its highest level in September in 13 years, making investors bullish about the third-quarter US earnings season, which begins in around 10 days.

Companies in the S&P 500 are projected to report a five percent year-over-year gain in operating earnings-per-share (EPS), according to CFRA Research.

US President Donald Trump’s market-friendly tax reform proposals, including a plan to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, have also buoyed investors.

Hong Kong rose 1.5 percent after a long weekend and Tokyo gained 0.7 percent while Singapore edged down 0.2 percent.

Japanese banks and automakers were higher despite an announcement from Nissan late Monday it was recalling some 1.2 million cars in Japan that had failed to meet domestic rules on vehicle inspections.

The gains came after the Bank of Japan’s Tankan survey showed business confidence had hit its highest level in a decade.

– ‘Risk aversion waning’ –

“Global growth folks, global growth. That’s the economic story of the night as the raft of manufacturing PMI’s released in the past 24 hours tell the story of a continuation of this trend toward synchronisation and strength,” said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

“Gold continues to fall as the global economy grows… (and) as risk aversion wanes,” he added.

Equity markets in London, Paris and Frankfurt also rose but Spain’s IBEX index fell 1.2 percent and the euro slid against the dollar following a police crackdown on the banned Catalonia independence referendum.

Catalonia’s leader declared victory in the referendum to secede from Spain, prompting a warning from Madrid that it would do “everything within the law” to prevent the region from declaring independence.

The referendum was marred by shocking scenes of police violence with security forces moving in on polling stations across the region to stop people from voting, in some cases using batons and firing rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

– Key figures around 0300 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 20,558.23 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 1.5 percent at 27,974.68

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1712 from $1.1733

Dollar/yen: UP at 113.07 yen from 112.71 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3250 from $1.3277

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 16 cents at $50.42 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: DOWN 23 cents at $55.89 per barrel

New York – DOW: UP 0.7 percent at 22,557.60 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.1 percent at 7,322.82 points (close)

The politics of dominance: Don’t take it to the limit

October 2, 2017

By Han Fook Kwang
The Straits Times


An overly dominant ruling party faces dangers such as resistance to change and complacency

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s victory in the recent elections made headlines around the world because her party’s winning margin was much reduced due to the gains of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

For Singaporeans though, the more peculiar feature of the result might be that her party won only 33 per cent of the votes and would need a coalition with others to form the government. That has been a hallmark of German politics for decades. Yet, despite not winning a majority, Chancellor Merkel is now into her fourth term in office and is widely regarded as the leader of the Western world, after United States President Donald Trump was unofficially stripped of the title because of his inward-looking “America First” policy. Under her leadership, Germany has strengthened its position as one of the strongest economies in the world and demonstrated forthright stewardship of the troubled European Union.

Question: How has the country been able to achieve all these despite its politics of coalition government? Or, is its ability to accommodate a wide range of views one of the secrets to its strength?

I do not know the answer but whatever it is, it is a world apart from Singapore, where the defining characteristic has been the dominant position of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which has won every general election since independence in 1965. So overwhelming has its hold been that there has not been a single year when the opposition held more than 10 per cent of the seats and many in which it held none.

Singapore has done exceptionally well during these years of PAP dominance. The economy has grown, per capita income is one of the highest in the world, and the city has been transformed beyond recognition. There are many reasons for its success but political stability has often been touted as a major factor.

Indeed, the Government has repeatedly stressed that because of Singapore’s small size and limited talent pool, it cannot afford to have the revolving-door politics seen in many Western democracies, with parties taking turns at the helm, or worse, suffer a coalition government.

Singaporeans, by and large, understand the benefits of a strong government: the ability to plan for the long term, and to be able to implement policies quickly without politics getting in the way.

In contrast, the Germans would recoil at the thought of having one party dominate the country, having learnt their painful lesson in the brutal years leading to World War II when the Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler muscled its way to power.

To each his own then, and never the twain shall meet?

Every country has to decide which system works best for it, shaped by its own history and the unique circumstances of its people and culture. There is no universal model.

Every country has to decide which system works best for it, shaped by its own history and the unique circumstances of its people and culture. There is no universal model. But there are dangers when any one system is taken to extremes.

But there are dangers when any one system is taken to extremes.

In Germany, seats are allocated by proportional representation, which encourages multi-party democracy and works against a dominant party system. This has helped extreme right-wing parties such as the AfD gain a foothold, the first time in 60 years they have been able to do so. Analysts predict a rough time ahead as fringe parties enter the fray with their divisive politics.

In Singapore, danger comes from the other end of the spectrum, from an overly dominant government. It can lead to complacency when leaders lose touch with the ground and ordinary people’s concerns. Without a strong opposition and other influential voices outside the party, groupthink can set in.

The PAP suffered from some of this in the years leading to the 2011 General Election (GE), when it failed to address issues such as rising property prices, overcrowded MRT trains and an overly liberal immigration policy leading to a large influx of foreign workers. It was accused of being elitist in its approach.

To its credit, it acknowledged its weaknesses after suffering one of its worst setbacks in the GE, tackled the problems, and reaped the benefits in the 2015 GE.

Now, there are renewed concerns it is exercising its dominant powers by introducing the reserved presidency despite unhappiness among the people. Its overwhelming electoral victory in 2015 has no doubt made it more assured in dealing with these politically sensitive issues.

There is a familiar cycle to the politics of dominance, with the ruling party testing the limits of its power and recalibrating it at every election depending on how well it performs.

But it has to watch that it does not overplay its card because the Singapore political landscape is a flat one and can be swayed by one major nationwide issue, such as the reserved presidency. There might still be a political reckoning to come in the next election.

Besides complacency, there are two other dangers of an overly dominant government.

One is the blurring of lines between the party and the state. This is a pertinent risk in Singapore because the ruling party has been in power for so long, the public service has known no other political master. Public servants are supposed to be politically neutral in theory, but in practice it can be difficult to draw the line.

For example, opposition politicians have long complained that the People’s Association (PA) discriminates against them in not appointing opposition Members of Parliament as grassroots advisers even though they have been duly elected by the people. The Government has argued that the PA exists to explain and promote government programmes, a role it does not expect the opposition to support.

In reality, any ruling party anywhere will want to maximise the advantage it enjoys in incumbency. That’s only natural, and the PAP, because of its longevity, knows this better than anyone.

But if overdone, it risks undermining the integrity of public institutions and public confidence in them.

This would have serious consequences for Singapore because its public service is among the best in the world, with a reputation painstakingly built over the years.

The other danger an overly dominant ruling party faces is resistance to change even when circumstances require it. I do not mean adjustments of government policies but more fundamental changes to the party’s internal workings, such as who and how it attracts new members, how it selects its leaders, and what its approach is to alternative views.

The tendency of most dominant systems is to preserve the status quo because of inertia and vested interests. Can change come voluntarily from within, or will it be forced by external circumstances? The record of most dominant parties around the world, including the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, Umno in Malaysia and the African National Congress in South Africa, favours the latter. The PAP, being politically stronger than any of these parties, might yet prove the exception.

None of these potential risks will make Singaporeans desire coalition government or Germans embrace a dominant-party system. But both would do well to recognise the dangers of taking any one form to the extreme.

• The writer is also a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

Asia markets up, tracking Wall Street gains

October 2, 2017


© AFP/File | In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index ended the morning flat, despite business confidence hitting its highest level in a decade according to the Bank of Japan’s Tankan survey

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets rose Monday following records on Wall Street last week on hopes that President Donald Trump’s tax reforms would breathe new life into the US economy.Both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq ended at records, with investors buoyed by expectations of strong earnings ahead of the third-quarter corporate reporting season, which kicks off in about two weeks.

European equities also closed the week higher, with Frankfurt gaining 1.0 percent and London and Paris both up by 0.7 percent.

“Stock market euphoria rages on propelled by tax cuts and perhaps a misguided belief that history will repeat itself as equity markets have risen seven times in the last eight years between October and December,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA.

“But traders will continue to be vigilant as they search the news tickers for headline clues as to who the next Fed Chair will be, and how the tax reform process is going,” he added.

Trump has said he will decide on whether to replace Janet Yellen as Fed chair in the next two to three weeks.

The US leader’s economic agenda has been hobbled as the White House has become embroiled in a host of crises, from allegations of Russian interference in the American presidential election to Trump’s failed attempt to repeal health care legislation.

The latest tax cut proposals are also expected to face a tough time in Congress, with leaders in both parties likely to raise questions about how the reform will be paid for.

The reform includes a push for the US corporate tax rate to be slashed from 35 to 20 percent — below the 22.5 average of industrialised nations — with no details of how the cuts will be funded.

But investors have sought reassurance in the apparent cooperation between Trump and Republican congressional leaders on the tax proposals, in contrast to his failed bid to repeal Obamacare.

– Japan confidence up –

In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index ended the morning with only modest gains of 0.1 percent, despite business confidence hitting its highest level in a decade according to the Bank of Japan’s Tankan survey.

The strong Tankan figures, which beat estimates by a good margin, “should encourage investors to pick up … individual shares that are expected to report good results” in their half-year earnings reports due this month, said Yoshihiro Ito, chief strategist at Okasan Online Securities.

But worries over a national election later this month were weighing on the market, analysts said, with an upstart party led by the popular Governor of Tokyo seen making inroads into Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s majority.

Shares in Nissan fell by as much as 5.38 percent in early trade, after news emerged that thousands of its vehicles had been inspected by uncertified employees.

The automaker said late Friday that it would temporarily halt some vehicle registrations in Japan.

The dollar fetched 112.82 yen in early Asian trade, up from 112.52 yen in New York on Friday.

Hong Kong and Shanghai were closed for a public holiday, while South Korea’s benchmark index gained 0.9 percent and Singapore added 0.6 percent.

– Key figures around 0245 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 percent at 20,376.90 (break)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at 1.1779 from $1.1818

Dollar/yen: UP at 112.82 from 112.52 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3371 from $1.3398

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 14 cents at $51.53 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: UP 13 cents at $57.54 per barrel

New York – DOW: UP 0.1 percent at 22,405.09 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.7 percent at 7,372.76 (close)

China says wants deeper Singapore military ties, raps Taiwan relations

September 28, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people, sky and outdoor

FILE PHOTO – Officers and soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army hold a flag and weapons during a training session for a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War Two, at a military base in Beijing, China, August 22, 2015. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) – China wants to improve its military relationship with Singapore, but is resolutely opposed to any country having defense ties with self-ruled Taiwan, China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday, obliquely criticizing Singapore’s Taiwan links.

China is suspicious of the city state’s good military relations both with the United States and Taiwan, claimed by China as its own.

Singaporean troops train in Taiwan, despite a lack of formal diplomatic relations between the two, which has been an irritant in China-Singapore ties.

Last November, Hong Kong port authorities impounded nine Singaporean armored military vehicles being shipped home from training grounds in Taiwan, leading to tensions between Singapore and China. Hong Kong later released the vehicles.

Asked about a visit of Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen to China last week and speculation this may lead Singapore to end its military training in Taiwan, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said relations with Singapore’s military had been generally developing smoothly.

There are high level talks, mutual visits of warships and other exchanges, which has deepened mutual understanding and achieved practical results, Wu told a monthly news briefing.

“China is willing to work with Singapore to create favorable conditions to develop an even more mature military relationship,” he said.

“I also want to stress here that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China. We resolutely oppose any country having any form of official exchanges with Taiwan or military links.”

Ng’s meeting with Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan came as part of a trip to Beijing by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, where there was no public mention of the Taiwan matter.

Influential state-run Chinese newspaper the Global Times said last week that it was “inevitable” the military training in Taiwan would end, though it offered no proof.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring what it considers a wayward province under its rule.

Ties across the Taiwan Strait have nosedived since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections last year. China suspects she wants to push for the island’s formal independence. She says she wants to maintain peace with her giant neighbor.

In recent months, Chinese air force jets have carried out a series of drills around Taiwan which have included bombers and advanced fighter jets.

Spokesman Wu reiterated that the drills were routine.

“We will continue with such exercises,” he added.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry declined to comment.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Jessica Macy Yu in TAIPEI; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

A success story in resolving sea boundary disputes

September 28, 2017

By Tommy Koh
The Straits Times

Timor-Leste and Australia chart the way through conciliation in a first under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

We live in a very troubled world. There are conflicts and disputes between and among states in every region of the world. One category of disputes which is hard to resolve is disputes between states over their land and sea boundaries. The recent tension between China and India is a reminder that their land boundaries have not yet been resolved. In the South China Sea, there are disputes between China and several Asean countries on their competing sovereignty and maritime claims.

Viewed against this background, the announcement by the conciliation commission in Copenhagen on Sept 1, that there had been a breakthrough in the conciliation proceedings on maritime boundaries between Timor-Leste and Australia, was happy news. I wish to explain in this column the facts of the case, the nature of the conciliation proceedings, the elements of the package deal agreed upon by the two parties and some lessons learnt.

There is a lot of confusion in the media and in the minds of the public about the peaceful settlement of disputes. The United Nations Charter refers to the following modalities for the peaceful settlement of disputes: negotiation, fact-finding, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement.

When a country becomes a party of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), it can make a declaration that its preferred mode of dispute settlement is arbitration or the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. If it fails to make a choice, it is deemed to have chosen arbitration. Dispute settlement under Unclos is compulsory. This is why Malaysia was able to institute arbitral proceedings against Singapore in 2003 without our consent. Malaysia did not need Singapore’s consent because our consent was given when we became a party of the convention.

Australia and Timor-Leste are neighbouring states, separated by the Timor Sea at a distance of approximately 300 nautical miles. Timor-Leste (East Timor) was a Portuguese colony from the 16th century until 1975. On Nov 28, 1975, a political party, Fretilin, declared the territory’s independence. Nine days later, it was invaded and occupied by Indonesia. In 1976, Indonesia declared East Timor as its 27th province. In 1999, the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. From 1999 to 2002, it was administered by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (Untaet). It became independent on May 20, 2002.

There are several issues in the dispute between Timor-Leste and Australia. The first main issue concerns boundaries: the boundaries of the two countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and their continental shelves. Timor-Leste had, from 2003, requested that Australia negotiate those boundaries but to no avail. The second main issue concerns the development arrangements in a field called Greater Sunrise which, in Timor-Leste’s view, belonged to Timor-Leste and not Australia.


While dispute settlement under Unclos is compulsory, states can make a declaration to exclude from Unclos arbitral or judicial proceedings certain categories of disputes, including maritime boundary disputes. However, these disputes are subject to compulsory conciliation. On March 22, 2002, about two months before Timor-Leste became independent, Australia made a declaration, excluding from Unclos arbitral and judicial proceedings disputes concerning its EEZ boundaries and continental shelf boundaries. Timor-Leste is therefore unable to initiate arbitral or judicial proceedings against Australia on their sea boundaries.

…there was the political will on both sides to find a just and durable compromise. Both sides were willing to give and take. Without the requisite political will, the case would not have succeeded. We must congratulate the governments of Timor-Leste and Australia for setting a good example for the world.

On April 11 last year, Timor-Leste surprised Australia by notifying Canberra that it was initiating compulsory conciliation proceedings against Australia. Timor-Leste also informed Australia that it was appointing Judge Abdul Koroma and Judge Rudiger Wolfrum as its conciliators. On May 2 the same year, Australia informed Timor-Leste that it had appointed Dr Rosalie Balkin and Professor Donald McRae as its conciliators. The four conciliators, with the consent of the two countries, chose Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen as the commission’s fifth conciliator and chairman.

Australia objected to the commission’s competence. In response, the commission held a special hearing on competence from Aug 29 to 31 last year. The following month, on Sept 19, the commission unanimously decided that it had competence. It also decided that it would aim to conclude its work within 12 months from Sept 19, as prescribed by Article 7 of Annex V of Unclos.

This is the first occasion in which Annex V of Unclos has been invoked. It may therefore be useful for us to find out more about conciliation under Unclos. My first point is that under Unclos, we have voluntary conciliation and compulsory conciliation. My second point is that the conciliation commission is not a court of law. It is not the commission’s job to rule on the legal rights of the two parties. The function of the commission is to “hear the parties, examine their claims and objectives, and make proposals to the parties with a view to reaching an amicable settlement”.


At their meeting in Copenhagen on Aug 30 this year, the two parties accepted a package deal proposed by the commission. The package agreement addresses their maritime boundary in the Timor Sea, the legal status of the Greater Sunrise gas field, the establishment of a special regime for Greater Sunrise, the development of the oil and gas resource, and the sharing of the resulting revenue.

It is the intention of the commission and the two parties to embody the agreement in a legally binding treaty. The two parties will meet at The Hague next month to sign an agreement on the text of the treaty. The treaty itself will be signed subsequently, possibly at the UN, and witnessed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

What lessons can we learn from this case? There are several. First, countries which have disputes about their sea boundaries, or have competing claims about territorial sovereignty, should seriously consider using conciliation to solve their disputes. Unlike arbitration and judicial settlement, conciliation is non-adversarial and the outcome is consensual and win-win.

Second, you should choose your conciliators wisely. In this case, we have five excellent conciliators. The chairman of the commission, Ambassador Taksoe-Jensen, drove the process with energy, determination and fairness. The Unclos deadline for the commission to produce a report within 12 months helped to put pressure on everyone.

Third, the two countries were very well represented. Timor-Leste’s chief negotiator is Mr Xanana Gusmao, the father of the nation. Its agent, Minister Agio Pereira, is cool, wise and solid. Its legal team includes two top legal minds, Professor Vaughan Lowe and Sir Michael Wood. The same is true on the Australian side. Mr Gary Quinlan, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, made an important contribution. Sir Daniel Bethlehem and Professor Chester Brown are a good match for Prof Lowe and Sir Michael.

Finally, and perhaps, the most important factor, is that there was the political will on both sides to find a just and durable compromise. Both sides were willing to give and take. Without the requisite political will, the case would not have succeeded. We must congratulate the governments of Timor-Leste and Australia for setting a good example for the world.

• The author, an ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, served as president of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1981 and 1982, and is currently the chairman of the board of governors of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline ‘A success story in resolving sea boundary disputes’

US dollar shines, Asia shares slip after Fed signals December rate hike

September 21, 2017

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Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen

TOKYO (REUTERS) – The US dollar shone while Asian shares slipped on Thursday (Sept 21) after the US Federal Reserve announced a plan to start shrinking its balance sheet and signalled one more rate hike later this year.

European shares are expected to benefit from a fall in the euro against the dollar with spread betters looking at a higher opening of 0.5 per cent in Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC.

Japan’s Nikkei gained 0.2 per cent as a rise in US bond yields lifted financial shares, while the yen’s fall against the dollar after the Fed’s decision helped exporters.

The Bank of Japan, as widely expected, left its policy settings unchanged, with markets awaiting a news conference by its governor later in the day.

MSCI’s broadest dollar-denominated index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.5 per cent, with Australian shares among the hardest hit with fall of 0.8 per cent.

Major US share indexes recovered quickly from initial losses following the Fed’s announcement, with the S&P 500 ending slightly higher, helped in part by gains in financials and energy shares.

“While a rate hike is negative, the fact that the Fed’s confidence in the economy is strong enough to expect a rate hike can be taken as supportive of market sentiment,” said Soichiro Monji, chief strategist at Daiwa SB Investments.

The Fed’s view also prompted a rotation from tech shares into financial shares, which benefit from higher interest rates, he added. “In a way, what the Fed did was not much of a surprise. From now, the markets will be focusing on individual earnings rather than macro themes,” said Hisashi Iwama, senior portfolio manager at Asset Management One.

As expected, the Fed said it would begin in October to trim its massive holding of U.S. Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities acquired in the years after the 2008 financial crisis.

The Fed signalled it still expects one more interest rate hike by the end of the year, despite a recent bout of low inflation, but ratcheted down its long-term interest rate forecasts.

Fed fund rate futures are now pricing in about a 65 per cent chance of a rate hike by December compared to around 50 percent before the latest meeting. Markets expect the Fed move to coincide with revisions of its economic projections.

The yield on two-year US Treasury notes jumped to 1.451 per cent, its highest level since November 2008 late on Wednesday. The 10-year US Treasuries yield rose to 2.278 per cent, briefly hitting a six-week high of 2.289 per cent.

“The markets reacted to the Fed quite straightforwardly, with shorter yields rising more than long-dated bond yields. The bond markets have fairly strong conviction that low inflation and low growth will persist,” said Hiroko Iwaki, senior strategist at Mizuho Securities.

In the currency market, the rise in Treasury yields boosted the dollar’s attractiveness.

The euro dropped to US$1.1883 from above US$1.20 just before the Fed’s policy announcement.

Likewise the dollar jumped to 112.595 yen, a two-month high, from around 111.30.

Against the Singapore dollar, the greenback was up 0.63 per cent to S$1.3525 as of 2:45pm in Singapore, from it’s Wednesday’s close of S$1.3441.

With the dollar advancing, gold slipped to a three-week low of US$1,296 per ounce.

Oil prices flirted with multi-month highs, despite a rise in US crude inventories, after the Iraqi oil minister said Opec and its partners were considering extending or deepening output cuts, ahead of the planned meeting between OPEC and non-Opec nations on Friday.

Brent crude futures rose to a five-month high of US$56.48 a barrel on Wednesday and last stood at US$56.17, down slightly from late US levels.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures hit a four-month high of US$50.79 per barrel and last traded at US$50.64, down slightly from the US close on Wednesday.

Senior Chinese Leader Says Has ‘Shared Destiny’ With Vietnam

September 19, 2017

BEIJING — China and Vietnam’s Communist Parties have a “shared destiny” and the two nations have huge potential for economic cooperation, a senior official said on Tuesday during a visit to Vietnam, which has clashed with China over the South China Sea.

Though the two countries are run by Communist parties, they are deeply suspicious of each other and relations have been strained over the past few years because of the dispute in the strategic South China Sea.

China has appeared uneasy at Vietnam’s efforts to rally Southeast Asian countries over the busy waterway as well as at its neighbor’s growing defense ties with the United States, Japan and India.

In July, under pressure from Beijing, Vietnam suspended oil drilling in offshore waters that are also claimed by China.

However, Hanoi and Beijing have also tried to prevent tensions from getting too out of control, and senior officials from two countries make fairly regular visits to each other.

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Liu Yunshan, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s elite Standing Committee which runs the country, told Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi that the two parties “constitute a community of shared destiny with strategic significance”, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The two economies are highly complementary, with huge potential for practical cooperation, he added.

While the report made no direction mention of the South China Sea, it quoted Liu as suggesting the two countries “properly manage and control their divergences, so as to create favorable environment for bilateral cooperation”.

China claims nearly all the South China Sea, through which an estimated $3 trillion in international trade passes each year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan also have claims.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

See the report from Xinhua:



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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 and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.