Saturday, 20 September 2014

It's That Time Of Year Again...

from The Editor: How times flies in a year! These days it's ever more difficult to keep pace with what's (really) happening around the globe and of course the Asia-Pacific region is no exception. 

The regional arms race continues to gain momentum with virtually no corner of the Asia-Pacific free from increased spending on 'defense' and military equipment. 

China continues it's goal to establish itself (rightly or wrongly) as the major geo-political force within the region. Naturally upsetting the apple cart with neighboring countries. It's been particularly interesting to see the establishment of new banking/financial institutions which are seen by some as a way to challenge and circumnavigate the hegemony of Washington. Will it work? Time will tell I suppose.

Military coups and drills, territorial disputes, cyber threats, Fukushima and of course the upcoming G20 here in Brisbane, Australia have all been consistent and worrying developments making the rounds throughout the region and on this website over the past 12 months.

Fortunately it hasn't all been troubling news. Across the Asia-Pacific everyday people are doing what they can to resist and stand-up against the numerous challenges that they face. GMO resistance, TPP activism, and some encouraging signs of new peaceful alternatives aimed at truly bringing communities together without the forceful hand of the state intervening are very positive. Which is something that I hope we all (myself included) continue to strive for. 

With that said, for the last couple of years my wife and I spent a few weeks in Japan. We had such an incredible time there in 2012 and 2013 that we're making the trip once again this year for some much needed R and R. As you can imagine we are very excited to be heading back for a 3rd time! There are still so many amazing things to experience in Japan that we just couldn't resist making the trip again.

So with the running of being essentially a one-man-show the site is going to be pretty much inactive over the next month or so. 

However my vacation isn't all going to be sushi and shinkansen's. This trip (like last year) I am very excited to be catching up again with James Corbett. I will encourage all of you to make sure you are up to speed with the reading/viewing for NEXT month's 'Film, Literature and the New World Order' podcast. Where we'll be taking a close look at the incredible anime film 'Grave of the Fireflies'. So keep your eye out for that one in a few weeks time. You can revisit my time last year in the sunny climes of western Japan by checking out epsiode 283 - 'Solutions: Making Your Own Media' of the Corbett Report podcast and for those who are interested, I'll be posting some photos and videos from our time in Japan on my twitter. Follow me @brocwest.

That's all from me for now, take care.

ありがとう ございます

Broc West

Abbott's War and The World of Oil and Money

from Oil and money collide again as Tony Abbott carries Australia back into the Middle East conflict for the third time in three decades. Rodney E. Lever reports.

It is difficult to believe that Tony Abbott knows what he is doing in committing Australia to a third war in Iraq. How does one read into the mind of a man who has been a serial liar all his life?

Joan Abbott (no relation as far as I know) tweeted this comment to me:
A war without definition pursued by a man who defies definition. Welcome to Australia, land of the Great (un)Defined.’

Prime Minister Abbott has pegged his place in history to a leaking vessel and it raises many questions and many doubts.

When, for example, did Barack Obama ask Australia to send our squadron of Hornets? Did I miss something? America has its own much more powerful air force. When did Obama request Australian troops? He has declared that his own army will be restricted to training Iraq forces again to meet the threat of ISIL (or ISIS, as America calls it). 

From the beginning, this has been Obama’s war. He was elected to end the first mess in Iraq started by George W. Bush simply because the American power elite no longer trusted Saddam Hussein, who had previously been an ally to the US but had outlived his usefulness.

With pressure from Rupert Murdoch, both John Howard in Australia and Tony Blair in Britain agreed to supply troops to support the Americans in a war that was conducted only by fogging the truth to obtain support from the United Nations. Both Howard and Blair acted without any enthusiastic support from the citizens of both their countries.

The first Iraq war ‒ the Gulf War ‒ was a humanitarian disaster, with half a million dead children not enough to fill the West’s insatiable maw.

It was based on outrageous lies about “weapons of mass destruction” that were clearly shown not to exist — before or after the war.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

China Central Bank Injects $81b Into Major Banks To Support Economy: Reports

from China's central bank is injecting a combined 500 billion yuan ($81.35 billion) of liquidity into the country's top banks, according to media reports, a sign that authorities are stepping up efforts to shore up a faltering economy.

Global shares and commodity prices rose on the reported move, although local money market rates climbed on the day, reflecting continued tightness in liquidity. [MKTS/GLOB]

The Wall Street Journal, citing an unnamed Chinese bank executive, said the People's Bank of China (PBOC) is pumping in 100 billion yuan each into China's top five banks via standard lending facility in the form of 3-month loans.

When contacted by Reuters, a PBOC spokesman said: “We will make an announcement if we have any news.”

The central bank may be worried that an expected tightening in liquidity ahead of the quarter-end as well as a series of upcoming initial public offerings could trigger a sharp rise in short-term rates, as was seen in June last year, when they surged to around 30 percent and roiled global markets, traders said.

Analysts say the amount is equivalent to a 50-basis-point cut to banks' reserve requirement ratio – the level of cash commercial lenders must carry on deposit with the PBOC. However, an RRR cut would have a longer-lasting and larger impact across the economy.

Vietnam, India to Expand Oil Exploration in Contested South China Sea

from Vietnam and India agreed Monday to expand cooperation in oil and gas exploration and production in contested waters of the South China Sea, despite previous objections from China. 

The agreement between ONGC Videsh Ltd and Vietnam Oil and Gas Group, or PetroVietnam, was among several signed between the two countries in Hanoi Monday as part of a four-day visit to Vietnam by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee. 

“ONGC has been conducting oil and gas exploration and production in Vietnam for many years, and today’s agreement will pave the way for us to extend our cooperation in other blocks offshore Vietnam,” Do Van Hau, PetroVietnam’s chief executive, told The Wall Street Journal. 

ONGC already has a stake in a gas-production block on the southern Vietnam coast. It is also drilling in offshore exploration block 128 in the South China Sea. It relinquished adjacent block 127 in 2011 after it failed to find any oil or gas in the area. 

In 2011, the Chinese government warned ONGC that its exploration activities off the Vietnam coast were illegal and violated China’s sovereignty, but the company has continued its activities in Vietnam. China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, where Block 127 and 128 are located. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Abe Says He’s ‘Neutral’ On Raising Japan Sales Tax Again

from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he remained “neutral” on whether to proceed with a hike in Japan’s sales tax to 10%, adding that decision would hinge on the strength of economic indicators for the current quarter.

”The economy is a living thing and we are thinking about this in a neutral way,” Abe told public broadcaster NHK.

Abe has to decide by the end of the year whether to proceed with a previously approved plan to raise the consumption tax to 10% from 8% in 2015 after a hike from 5% in April sent consumption into a sharp contraction.

Abe said in an NHK interview that he wanted to see how the economy performs in the July to September quarter after gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 7.1% in the April to June quarter as a result of the previous tax increase.

”We would like to get economic indicators from the quarter and hear the views of economists. As part of that process, we will decide whether to proceed with the tax hike as now set by law or whether to wait. That’s the discussion we need to have,” Abe said.

Abe said his goal was to restore growth to the world’s third largest economy and end 15 years of deflation. At the same time, he has pledged to curb government debt, which is well over twice the size of GDP, the heaviest debt burden in the industrial world.

”We have no alternative but to aim to spur growth even as we get public finance on a healthier footing,” Abe told NHK. 

— Reuters

China's Xi Due In India, Up To $300b Of Investments Expected

from China's President Xi Jinping is expected to commit to millions of dollars in new investments as he kicks off his maiden tour of India on Wednesday (Sep 17).

Chinese officials have indicated their country will commit between US$100b and US$300b on projects including high-speed rail and "smart" infrastructure but it will have to compete with Japan for some of the blue-ribbon opportunities.

President Xi will be the first important Asian head of state to visit India since the new Narendra Modi government was sworn into office in May this year. President Xi's first stop will be in the western Indian state of Gujarat, which is not only Mr Modi's home state but also where China has made huge investments.

Alka Acharya, director of Institute of Chinese Studies, said that both China and India have "huge stakes in a good bilateral relationship". "A lot of expectations from the visit, there is a great deal of promise that both the governments have held out about taking this relationship forward in a very purposeful fashion."

The new Indian government's focus is on the revival of the Indian economy, with Prime Minister Modi promising "smart" cities and to reinvigorate the 'Made in India' label. Key to that plan is cooperation with China and Japan, both of which are racing for a slice of the lucrative investment on offer in India.

China and Japan are in a tussle to rebuild India's ageing rail network with their respective new technologies. Earlier this month Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed Mr Modi to Tokyo and committed an injection of US$35 billion over the next five years. But China is a key player and is certain to bring its own strategic investment blueprint to President Xi's visit.

China Rig Finds Gas After Vietnam Sea Standoff

from One of China’s national oil companies has announced its first gas field discovery in the South China Sea, about 150 kilometers south of the country’s southernmost island of Hainan.

The find, announced in state media Tuesday, is the first by a $1 billion deep sea exploration rig that China National Offshore Oil Corp. deployed two years ago.

The rig was at center of a tense marine standoff with Vietnam in May when Beijing allowed it to be towed inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.

The discovery by CNOOC was made about a month after the rig withdrew in July to far less-contested waters closer to China.

It remains to be seen whether the field will be commercially viable.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Maldives Backs China's Plan On ‘Maritime Silk Route’

from China’s President Xi Jinping secured Maldivian support yesterday for a “21st century maritime silk road” as he began a South Asian tour in the strategically located Indian Ocean atoll nation.

The Maldives is best known for its tourist industry but also straddles major international shipping lanes, and Chinese investment there has grown significantly as Beijing tries to secure vital trade routes.

In a joint statement, the two countries also said they agreed to cooperate on security issues — a potentially sensitive issue in a region traditionally dominated by India. “The Maldives welcomes and supports the proposal put forward by China to build the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and is prepared to actively participate in relevant cooperation,” the statement said. “The two sides agreed to enhance cooperation in other areas, such as marine, economy, and security,” it said.

Xi is the first Chinese head of state to visit the Maldives since the former British protectorate gained independence in 1965. It is his second meeting with President Abdulla Yameen in a matter of weeks, following their talks last month in Nanjing.

India has regarded China’s growing influence among its neighbours with concern, leading new Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prioritise regional relationships which critics say the previous government neglected.

A Maldivian government source said before the meeting that Male was keen to avoid upsetting regional superpower India by bringing up sensitive security issues, since New Delhi considers the islands to be within its sphere of influence.

Yameen said the Maldives was “honoured” to be a part of the trade route initiative, flagged by Xi during a visit to Indonesia last year and intended to revive a route running from China through Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean to Europe.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Taiwan ‘Gutter Oil’ Scandal: Hundreds Of Products Banned By Health Officials

from  A tainted-oil scandal in Taiwan could result in a shortage of groceries, and could even affect large international companies including Starbucks. Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration has announced it will pull all products linked to the Chang Guann Co., effective Saturday morning. 

Earlier this week, the company was found to be selling lard-based oil, normally used for industrial products, as a foodstuff. According to Want China Times, a Taiwanese newspaper, Chang Guann purchased the oil from a Hong Kong trading company, Globalway Corp. 

According to the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong, 14 of the listed products are also items that have been sold overseas, in places like Brazil, France, Hong Kong, mainland China, Macau, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States. In addition, more than 1,000 companies are reported to have been affected by the substandard oil, including global retail chains like Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) and 7-Eleven. Local health bureaus across Taiwan will reportedly be sending inspectors to ensure all listed products have been removed. The Taiwan FDA announced that stores continuing to sell such products would face a fines up to 3 million Taiwanese dollars, which is equivalent to just under $100,000US.

In an effort to clear shelves of compromised food supplies, Taiwan’s FDA deputy director-general Chiang Yu-mei said an initial list of 249 food products affected by the tainted oil supply will be pulled from grocery shelves. 

According to the health authority, the comprehensive recall of all Chang Guann-related products could lead to a temporary shortage of some food supplies in Taiwanese groceries as stocks are replaced with safe food. 

Chang Guann reportedly imported a total of 87 tonnes of oil that was illegally relabeled to be fit for human consumption. Branded as Chuan Tung Fragrant Lard Oil, the product, which is a combination of recycled kitchen waste oil and lard, was sold to roughly 1,256 retail businesses. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Tyranny or Terror? Selling the Politics of Fear

Written by | The AIMN: Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week you will no doubt be aware that ASIO is raising Australia’s terror level from medium to high. Apparently we are about to be inundated with Aussie ISIS combatants, and we all need to keep on our toes as the threat is very, very real!

But really, what are we actually afraid of ? The vast majority of Australians do not live in a hyped up state of paranoia over the esoteric and ill defined threat of “domestic terrorism”, (That’s not to say that such an attack could never happen, but the fact that it hasn’t happened thus far does render the prospect somewhat abstract). The expectation that we will be massacred by a suicide bomber on the train is not something that we tend to think of as we head off to work of a morning, nor do we wonder if some mentally unstable drug addict will open up with a semi automatic at the local school.

Our fears tend to be far more mundane in nature; “Will I be retrenched?”, “Will I be able to afford to go to uni?”, “Have I saved enough for retirement?”, “Will interests rates go up?”, “Will my wages be cut?”, “Will I be able to save a house deposit?”, “Can I afford to go back to work with the price of child care?”; these are the things that most of us really sweat.

As much as the government would like to shift our axis of fear away from it’s cruelling budget and toward a shadowy underworld of fanatical extremists who are feverishly plotting to kill us all, the fact remains that for most us “Does my bum look big in this”, or “will my transmission seize up before my next pay cheque” is a greater source of palpable anxiety than the prospect of some unhinged Jihadi’s returning from Syria or Iraq. But are we living in a fools paradise? Should we be scared? Would our day-to-day lives actually be safer (or better) if we all adopted the hyper-vigilant cortisol arousal of a combat soldier? Because surely that is exactly what “raising the threat level” is suggesting we do?