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Wednesday, 7 July 2004
Bird flu is back
Topic: Health
It looks like the bird flu is back.

Thailand has confirmed that 7,000 of 44,000 chickens in Ayutthaya had died in the last fortnight from the H5N1 strain of the bird flu. The surviving chickens have been culled.

On Tuesday, China had announced a new outbreak of bird flu after tests at a farm in the southeastern province of Anhui confirmed that chickens had died of bird flu. In March, China had declared it had defeated the disease after killing 9 million chickens and other poultry.

Bird flu has also appeared in Vietnam over the last three months.

In the earlier outbreak early this year, the disease ravaged flocks throughout Asia. It also spread from birds to humans, killing 16 people in Vietnam and eight in Thailand. About 100 million chickens across the region were slaughtered to halt its spread.

"It's not surprising that it has come back," said Roy Wadia of the World Health Organization in Beijing. "It stays in the environment a long time."

In April, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome -- or more commonly known as SARS -- threatened a similar comeback, making a re-appearance in China and causing one death. Fortunately, it was quickly contained again.

No doubt, health authorities in Asia have become better at controlling such outbreaks. Hopefully the latest bird flu outbreak is also quickly brought under control.

Posted by lim_cs at 9:47 PM JST | post your comment (0) | link to this post
Sunday, 4 July 2004
Malaysia scraps rule on women visitors from China
Topic: Politics
On 30 June, the Malaysian government announced that it was scrapping a rule that required young female visitors from China to be accompanied by either their husbands or fathers when visiting the country.

Earlier last month, the Immigration Department had issued a circular imposing these conditions on women aged between 18 and 25 wanting to visit Malaysia. It also required them to produce documents to prove that they were tourists.

The rule had been implemented to address rising concerns about young women from China entering Malaysia as tourists and staying to work as prostitutes instead. Statistics compiled by the Malaysian police show that last year, 1,971 women from China had been detained for overstaying. In the first four months of this year, 654 women from China were arrested.

It is a problem that is not unique to Malaysia. Hong Kong and Singapore have also reported similar problems with Chinese women working as prostitutes.

The reason for the rescission of the rule is not clear at the moment. However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry had recently issued a travel advisory warning its citizens about snatch thefts in Malaysia.

Coincidence? Hard to say. It would not have surprised me, though, if it had been a calculated tit-for-tat measure by Beijing against Malaysia.

Malaysia's rule on Chinese women visitors seems to me to be so obviously politically insensitive that I wonder why the Malaysian authorities even passed it in the first place if it were at all interested in keeping good relations with Beijing.

Posted by lim_cs at 6:29 PM JST | post your comment (0) | link to this post
Monday, 21 June 2004
Taiwan and China making war plans
Topic: Politics
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 reported today.

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.

Posted by lim_cs at 8:59 PM JST | post your comment (0) | link to this post
Saturday, 12 June 2004
Ronald Reagan: Death and legacy
Topic: Politics
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.

Posted by lim_cs at 4:51 PM JST | post your comment (0) | link to this post
Sunday, 30 May 2004
Brazilian president has ambitious trade plans
Topic: Business
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.

Posted by lim_cs at 9:48 PM JST | post your comment (0) | link to this post
Thursday, 20 May 2004
Sikh to become prime minister of India
Topic: Politics
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.

Posted by lim_cs at 8:57 PM JST | post your comment (0) | link to this post
Friday, 14 May 2004
Return of the Gandhi dynasty?
Topic: Politics
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.

Posted by lim_cs at 9:23 PM JST | post your comment (0) | link to this post
Saturday, 8 May 2004
Abuse of Iraqi detainees
Topic: Politics
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.

Posted by lim_cs at 5:58 PM JST | post your comment (0) | link to this post

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