Sunday, 26 July 2015

Australian Senators Give Medical Marijuana The Green Light

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 23 July 2015

China Has Drilling Rigs Near Disputed Islands: Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Philippines Repairs Crumbling South China Sea Outpost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 10 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

China Stocks Fall Again Despite Support Measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, 2 July 2015

China Issues Report on ‘Terrible’ U.S. Human Rights Record

By Chun Han Wong | U.S. and Chinese officials may have struck conciliatory tones at high-level talks this week amid festering mutual mistrust, but their annual bickering over human rights has resumed unabated.

A day after the U.S. State Department issued global human-rights scorecards that included criticism of China, Beijing offered a scathing rejoinder that accused Washington of “showing not a bit of regret for or intention to improve its own terrible human rights record.”

“Plenty of facts show that, in 2014, the U.S., a self-proclaimed human rights defender, saw no improvements in its existent human rights issues, but reported numerous new problems,” said the Chinese report, published Friday by the information office of China’s State Council, the country’s Cabinet. “While its own human rights situation was increasingly grave, the U.S. violated human rights in other countries in a more brazen manner.”

America’s record remained blotted by rampant gun crime, racial discrimination, the pernicious influence of money in politics, widening income and social inequality, and state infringements of individual privacy, according to the State Council’s latest yearly assessment.

By Beijing’s reckoning, the U.S. also violated human rights abroad through the use of torture, mass electronic surveillance of foreign governments and citizens, and frequent military drone attacks that have inflicted civilian casualties.

More Than 11,000 Sydney Dental Patients Potentially Exposed to HIV and Hepatitis

from More than 11,000 Sydney dental patients may have been exposed to HIV and hepatitis because of unhygienic practices at four clinics across the city.

New South Wales (NSW) health authorities said on Thursday the disease risk was caused by poor cleaning and sterilization techniques at the four dental practices.

The issues at the four practices go back a number of years, NSW Health said in a statement.

The department is recommending people who had invasive procedures at the Gentle Dentist in Campsie and Sussex St. or the Surry Hills and Bondi Junction surgeries of Dr. Robert Starkenburg be tested for blood-borne diseases.

Gentle Dentist operator Dr. Samson Chan, four of his staff and Dr. Starkenburg have all been suspended following investigations prompted by customer complaints.

"There is an array of problems, including the cleaning of instruments, functioning of sterilizers, the knowledge of the practitioners and recording of the results of the sterilizing equipment," Dr. Jeremy McAnulty, director, health protection at NSW Health told reporters on Thursday.

Another six dentists from the Gentle Dentist clinics have had conditions placed on their licenses.

Japan Looks to Southeast Asia to Counter China’s Assertiveness

By Arthur Moore | Geopolitical Monitor: Belligerent and provocative behavior by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the construction of bases on reefs threaten the open sea lanes that the Japanese economy depends on. In response, Tokyo has been looking to expand the scope of its Maritime Self-Defense Force activities in order to secure its interests beyond its immediate shoreline by creating new defense agreements with Southeast Asian nations, whilst simultaneously augmenting its Maritime and Air Self-Defense Force capabilities.

For now and for the foreseeable future, Japan and China are locked in a regional great power competition that is fuelled by historical legacies and escalating quickly.

Since the onset of the Cold War, Japan has adopted a self-subordinated role to US security interests. Over the past few decades since the end of the Cold War Japan has been orientating itself to be more self-reliant and less dependent on United States for its defense. Now, Japan’s Maritime and Air Self-Defense Force boasts a very impressive force that is orientated towards blunting and denying Chinese naval and air activities in the South China Sea. JMSDF and ASDF platforms are intended to raise the risk for Chinese naval incursions into the South China Sea, at least those which are deemed encroaching on territorial waters of other nations in the region.

Recent JMSDF maritime procurements, such as the Izumo class vessels and upgrades to the MSDF’s Aegis destroyers are incremental and signify a continuation of Japanese anti-submarine warfare efforts and anti-ballistic missile defense, respectively. These procurements are in line with Japan playing the ‘shield’ to America’s ‘spear’ that provides power-projection and offensive capabilities, such as aircraft carriers as well as (supposedly) a nuclear umbrella. Nevertheless, at the behest of Washington, Japan has taken on more security responsibilities in its region, highlighting a more autonomous role, and it is in a position to defend itself and others unilaterally against potential Chinese conventional incursions in nearby waters.