Monday, 21 June 2004
Taiwan and China making war plans
Things appear to be heating up across the Taiwan Straits.
"The United States has nudged Taiwan to beef up its defence capabilities, hinting at a possible sale of Aegis-equipped destroyers to the island amid a perceived growing threat from rival China," The Straits Times
According to the report, Admiral Thomas Boulton Fargo, commander of the US Pacific Command, told a visiting group of Taiwanese parliamentarians in Hawaii that "he was worried about China's speedy military modernisation". However, he said it was up to Taiwan to decide whether or not it wanted to boost its defence capabilities.
CNN had reported yesterday that China's generals are stepping up efforts to seek approval from the Chinese Communist Party leadership for more funds and speed up the reunification process with Taiwan, including the possible use of military force.
And earlier media reports had indicated that US defence planners are speculating that, in the event of a war across the strait, Taiwan may try to hit high-value targets like the Three Gorges Dam as a way of deterring a Chinese invasion.
The US government has a one-China policy mainly to placate Beijing and hopefully avoid a war across the Taiwan Straits. Unfortunately, this policy is a double-edged sword. It also gives Beijing an excuse to go to war to assert its claim on Taiwan.
Furthermore, the US continues to arm Taiwan. This gives the pro-independence government in Taipei hope that the US will help in case of a conflict with China and encourages it to be bolder and more antagonistic toward the latter.
All these elements only increase the probability of a conflict between China and Taiwan. War may not be inevitable yet, but all parties involved should start taking measures to reduce the tension and not allow matters to deteriorate further.
Saturday, 12 June 2004
Ronald Reagan: Death and legacy
Ronald Reagan, the former president of the United States, died on 5 June 2004 at the age of 93 after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was buried yesterday in Simi Valley, California.
The whole funeral ceremony had begun earlier in the day at Washington's National Cathedral, where leaders, both current and former, from the US and the rest of the world, read eulogies on the former president. President George Bush declared that Reagan was "an enduring symbol of our country".
After that, a presidential jet flew the casket to California, where a motorcade brought it to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. There, at a service attended by about 720 of Reagan's family and friends, the body of Ronald Reagan was laid to rest.
Reagan served two terms as president of the United States. Early in his presidency, in 1981, an attempt was made to assassinate him. The attempt failed, and Reagan went on to make his mark on the US and the world.
During his presidency, inflation, which had raged throughout the 1970s, was finally tamed, with more than a little help from Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker's high-interest-rate policy. Reagan introduced tax cuts and legislation to deregulate the economy. By the end of his administration, the US had enjoyed its longest recorded period of peacetime expansion up to then.
By increasing defence spending, Reagan has been widely credited for winning the Cold War for the US. The pressure of keeping up with the US militarily proved too much for the Soviet Union, and contributed to its eventual collapse.
However, the defence expenditures also exacted a toll on the US. Throughout his presidency, the US government suffered budget deficits. The national debt doubled in real terms from US$1 billion in 1981 to US$2 billion in 1989 (figures based on 1987 dollars). The debt increased from 27 percent of gross domestic product to 42 percent.
Nevertheless, Reagan's achievements were widely acknowledged and he remained highly popular throughout his presidency. At the end of his presidency, in his farewell address to the nation, he was able to declare:
We've done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for 8 years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.
Sunday, 30 May 2004
Brazilian president has ambitious trade plans
Last June, Brazil, India and South Africa had formed the G3 to boost trade and combine their political muscle in world forums like the United Nations. Now, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil thinks the group can be expanded.
"We dream that in the near future it will be a G5, which will be with Russia and China," President da Silva told reporters on 27 May during his trip to China. "We want to build a political force capable of convincing rich nations...they can ease their protectionist policies and give access to the so-called developing world."
The United States, however, is unimpressed.
"We need to focus on the substance [of talks], not what the gamesmanship is," US Commerce undersecretary Grant Aldonas told reporters in Brazil's Congress when he was asked for his opinion of President da Silva's proposal. "Whatever the grouping is that's not that much of a concern."
Even if the G5 proposal does not make any headway, President da Silva's visit to China may already have. His delegation of eight cabinet ministers, six state governors and 450 business leaders has already sealed a number of commercial agreements. These include US$5 billion worth of deals for Brazil's CVRD group, the world's largest iron ore exporter, and an accord that will see Brazilian and Chinese oil companies working together in South Asia, Iran and South America.
As it is, Brazil and China -- the two biggest economies in the developing world -- have already seen trade between the two nations grow five-fold between 2000 and 2003 to a value of US$8billion.
Thursday, 20 May 2004
Sikh to become prime minister of India
So, Sonia Gandhi will not become prime minister of India after all. The appointment will instead go to Dr Manmohan Singh.
The possibility of a foreign-born woman becoming prime minister -- Sonia Gandhi had been born in Italy -- had aroused considerable protest throughout India even though she is popular among her Congress party supporters.
Dr Singh is the architect of India's economic reforms, and the business community is likely to react favourably to his appointment as prime minister. Yesterday, the day he was named as the next prime minister, the Mumbai Sensex stock index rose 129 points to 5,006.
Dr Singh will become India's first Sikh prime minister.
Friday, 14 May 2004
Return of the Gandhi dynasty?
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP-led coalition has been ousted from power by the opposition Congress party led by Sonia Gandhi. Congress and its allies won 279 seats, a majority of the 545-seat Parliament. Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies had 187.
Analysts attribute the Congress victory to discontent among poor rural voters who felt left behind by the economic reforms championed by outgoing Prime Minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The Italian-born Gandhi looks set to be India's next prime minister. This means that the Gandhi family, the ruling dynasty of India for much of its post-colonial history, is set to return to power.
Saturday, 8 May 2004
Abuse of Iraqi detainees
So much is being said and written about the abuse of Iraqi detainees by American soldiers. The latest development being President George Bush's apology.
But where have we seen this sort of thing before? Yes, for those with long memories, it happened in Vietnam, back in the 1960s and 1970s.
The circumstances were slightly different then, and so was the manner of abuse. The fact, however, is that prisoners -- in war, in criminal detention -- are always vulnerable to abuse and torture. That is the unfortunate reality. And the reason why rules have to be in place for such situations.
Whether US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigns or not, as many have demanded, the American government must now do everything it can to repair the public relations damage resulting from this episode. Otherwise, it would invite further terrorist activities against the American nation.
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