2010/06/05

US still studying fighter jet sales to Taiwan: envoy

TAIPEI, June  4, 2010 (AFP) - Washington is still evaluating Taiwan's bid to acquire US fighter jets, a US envoy said Friday, amid growing concern in Taipei that China now has an edge in air power.

"It's an issue we are studying. There has been no decision made saying we are not going to sell ... We are carefully looking at the aerial defence needs of Taiwan," Raymond Burghardt told reporters in Taipei.

Burghardt, the Washington-based chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), made the remarks after meeting President Ma Ying-jeou who renewed the island's request to purchase F16 C/D jets.

"It's a big decision because it's going to one of the most important arms systems they have requested, maybe the most significant one they have on the table at this moment," said Burghardt.

Taiwan applied to the US government to buy 66 F-16 fighters in early 2007, but observers say Washington has held up the deal for fear of angering Beijing.

The United States in January approved a 6.4 billion-dollar arms package to Taiwan, prompting a furious Beijing to halt military exchanges and security talks with Washington.

China opposes any arms sales to Taiwan, which it regards as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the two sides have been split since the end of a civil war in 1949.

"Of course there will be a reaction from Beijing," Burghardt said, adding China has identified this as a "particularly serious issue."

The AIT has handled unofficial ties with Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, although the United States has remained a leading arms supplier to the self-ruled island.

Taiwan's relations with China have warmed since Beijing-friendly Ma became president in 2008, but apprehension about the growing might of the mainland still lingers.


Boeing looks to Asia for overseas defence business

SINGAPORE, June  4, 2010 (AFP) - Boeing wants to expand its defence business outside the United States as it moves to compensate for Washington's cuts in defence spending, a leading executive said Friday.

Dennis Muilenburg, president and chief executive of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, said the aerospace giant aimed to sell more fighters such as the F-15 and F/A-18 Super Hornet, airlift planes and unmanned systems in Asia.

The international market now accounts for about 16 percent of Boeing's total annual defence revenues of 34 billion dollars and the company plans to expand this to 20-25 percent in the next five years, Muilenberg said.

The Asia-Pacific now contributes half of non-US revenues, he told reporters in Singapore, where he was attending a security forum.

"We've seen some flattening in the US defence budget and that has impacted us in a couple of areas like missile defence," he said.

"As we see our international business growing to roughly 25 percent of our business, the Asia fraction of that will grow a little above 50 percent just because of the market here and the opportunities that we see."

With demand for its main products remaining robust, the company is expanding into other businesses such as unmanned systems, computer systems security and protection for electrical power grids.

It is also expanding its business outside the US military and looking for more contracts in countries such as India, Singapore, Australia, South Korea and Japan, Muilenburg said.
"Our international business segment is a strong growth area," he added.

The need for new aircraft in humanitarian relief missions and disaster  rescue is driving demand for its Chinook helicopters and C-17 military transport planes, he said.

India has signed a deal to buy eight P8i anti-submarine aircraft from Boeing and has expressed an interest in purchasing 10 C-17 military transport aircraft.

Boeing is also one of several companies battling for a contract, worth almost 12 billion dollars, to supply 126 fighter jets to the Indian air force.

Boeing is touting its F-18 "Superhornet" while another US firm, Lockheed Martin, is offering the F-16. The other rivals include European, Russian, French and Swedish contractors.

Boeing's F-15s are key elements in several Asian air forces, including in South Korea, where tensions with its communist northern neighbour are rising after the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

A multinational investigation team concluded last month that a North Korean submarine torpedoed the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors, and prompting Seoul to announce a series of reprisals.

Muilenburg said Boeing would continue to provide South Korea with its defence needs.

"It's an honour and privilege for us to support them and we continue to provide that support even in the current dymamic environment," he said.

Boeing in 2002 won a contract to supply South Korea with 40 F-15 fighter jets in a deal worth more than four billion dollars.

"We see our role as wanting to make sure that we're meeting our commitments and that we're delivering on our promises to that very important customer," said Muilenburg.

Singapore has also chosen Boeing to supply its air force with 24 F-15s.

Swiss man faces jail, caning for Singapore graffiti: police

SINGAPORE, June  4, 2010 (AFP) - Singapore police said Friday they would file criminal charges against a Swiss man who broke into a subway depot and spray-painted graffiti on a train, offences punishable by jail and caning.

The 33-year-old, whose name was withheld until his court appearance on Saturday, is to be charged with committing trespass and vandalism between May 16 and 17, the Singapore Police Force said in a statement.

He was arrested about a week after the incident.

The Straits Times newspaper reported that the suspect was believed to have cut his way into the depot, a restricted zone surrounded by fences topped with barbed wire.

Vandalism is punishable by up to three years' jail or a maximum fine of 2,000 Singapore dollars (1,424 US), plus three to eight strokes of a wooden cane, a punishment dating from British colonial rule in Singapore.

An American teenager, Michael Fay, garnered global headlines in 1994 when he was jailed and caned in Singapore after he was found guilty of vandalising several cars. Fay was caned despite a US appeal for clemency.

The Swiss embassy was providing consular support to the arrested man.

"The embassy cannot, however, interfere in an eventual trial," Peter Zimmerli, the embassy's deputy head, said in an email.

The train was scrubbed clean afterwards but a clip on video-sharing site Youtube  -- still visible at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CV4JYKBEQo -- shows the vandalised train leaving a suburban station.

2010/06/04

Taiwan demonstrators scuffle with police over trade pact

TAIPEI, June  3, 2010 (AFP) - Protesters in Taiwan's capital scuffled with police Thursday and threw chairs at an official building where discussions were under way on a proposal for a referendum on a planned trade pact with China.

The dozens of demonstrators attempted to push their way into the building where the proposal by a radical pro-independence party called Taiwan Solidarity Union was being reviewed by a commission authorised by the government.

"Away from the door!" the demonstrators shouted at riot police deployed inside and outside the government building. No injuries or damage were reported.

The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou has been pushing for the pact, known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, saying it will boost growth and employment.
But the opposition has pledged more rallies against the controversial agreement.

Opponents say stronger competition from China will cost Taiwan jobs and the accord will make the island more dependent on the mainland.

Taiwan and China have been governed separately since a civil war in 1949, but Beijing considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to get it back, by force if necessary.

While results of Thursday's discussion were not announced, Taiwanese media generally expected the referendum proposal to be blocked by the commission.


Google buys advertising technology startup Invite Media

SAN FRANCISCO, June  3, 2010 (AFP) - Google on Thursday announced it has bought advertising technology startup Invite Media, which allows advertisers to bid on ad space.

Invite Media developed a way to let advertisers bid in real time for online display ad space and created a "universal buying platform."

"We're investing significantly in the display advertising ecosystem and are seeing great momentum," Google vice president of product management Neal Mohan said in a blog post.

"Real-time bidding technology is an important part of this ecosystem."

Google plans to invest heavily in Invite and eventually mesh its technology into DoubleClick, an online ad-targeting business it acquired three years ago.

Financial details of the Invite deal were not disclosed. Invite was founded in Philadelphia and has offices in New York City.


2010/06/03

Chinese military reluctant to forge ties with US: Gates

SINGAPORE, June  3, 2010 (AFP) - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed disappointment Thursday at China's decision to call off his planned visit, saying the country's military was reluctant to engage in a dialogue with the United States.

Gates told reporters before landing in Singapore for a security conference that it was his "opinion that the PLA (People's Liberation Army) is significantly less interested in developing this relationship than the political leadership of the country".

China has denounced US arms sales to Taiwan unveiled in January, and the move by Beijing appeared to fit a familiar pattern of stepping back from exchanges with the American military to convey displeasure.

Gates defended the weapons sales, saying it was nothing new and had not affected political or economic ties with Beijing.

"The reality is these arms sales go back to the beginning of the relationship," he said, referring to the normalisation of US-China ties in 1979.

The sales have always been "carefully calibrated" to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons, he told reporters aboard his plane.

"It depends on whether the Chinese want to make a big deal out of it or not," he said. "It's been there for over a generation."

Selling weapons to Taiwan has "not inhibited the development of the political and economic relationship" with China, he added.

President Barack Obama's administration in January approved a 6.4 billion dollar arms package for Taiwan, including helicopters, Patriot missiles and mine-hunting ships.

Gates had planned to visit Beijing as part of an Asian tour this week, which kicks off with an annual security conference in Singapore attended by senior military officials including from China.

He held up as a model a decades-long military dialogue between Washington and Moscow, which he argued had helped avoid misunderstandings.

"So I'm disappointed that the PLA leadership has not seen the same potential benefits from this kind of a military-to-military relationship as their own leadership and the United States seem to think would be of benefit," he said.

Before Gates spoke on his flight to Singapore, China confirmed no arrangements had been made for him to visit Beijing.

"We attach importance to military exchanges between the two departments of defence but there are no specific arrangements yet," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters, declining to comment further.

Last week, the deputy head of the PLA general staff, Ma Xiaotian, said US arms sales to self-ruled Taiwan -- which China sees as part of its territory -- were the "foremost obstacles" to US-China military ties.

General Ma is scheduled to attend the Singapore conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, but US officials said Gates would not be meeting the general because they said the delegation was not at a high enough level.

The Pentagon chief said there had been hints that China would cancel the visit despite an earlier invitation, and US officials were told last week in Beijing that it "would not be a good time for me to come."

He said US-China relations were moving forward on all fronts "with the sole exception of the military-to-military relationship."

"Whether this is a result of pushback by the PLA or there is some other factor, it's very difficult for us to tell."

With North Korea's alleged sinking of a South Korean warship expected to dominate the Singapore conference, Gates acknowledged that face-to-face talks with Chinese military leaders on the crisis would have been helpful.

"But we're not interested if they're not interested," he said.


Chinese military reluctant to forge ties with US: Gates

SINGAPORE, June  3, 2010 (AFP) - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed disappointment Thursday at China's decision to call off his planned visit, saying the country's military was reluctant to engage in a dialogue with the United States.

Gates told reporters before landing in Singapore for a security conference that it was his "opinion that the PLA (People's Liberation Army) is significantly less interested in developing this relationship than the political leadership of the country".

China has denounced US arms sales to Taiwan unveiled in January, and the move by Beijing appeared to fit a familiar pattern of stepping back from exchanges with the American military to convey displeasure.

Gates defended the weapons sales, saying it was nothing new and had not affected political or economic ties with Beijing.

"The reality is these arms sales go back to the beginning of the relationship," he said, referring to the normalisation of US-China ties in 1979.

The sales have always been "carefully calibrated" to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons, he told reporters aboard his plane.

"It depends on whether the Chinese want to make a big deal out of it or not," he said. "It's been there for over a generation."

Selling weapons to Taiwan has "not inhibited the development of the political and economic relationship" with China, he added.

President Barack Obama's administration in January approved a 6.4 billion dollar arms package for Taiwan, including helicopters, Patriot missiles and mine-hunting ships.

Gates had planned to visit Beijing as part of an Asian tour this week, which kicks off with an annual security conference in Singapore attended by senior military officials including from China.

He held up as a model a decades-long military dialogue between Washington and Moscow, which he argued had helped avoid misunderstandings.

"So I'm disappointed that the PLA leadership has not seen the same potential benefits from this kind of a military-to-military relationship as their own leadership and the United States seem to think would be of benefit," he said.

Before Gates spoke on his flight to Singapore, China confirmed no arrangements had been made for him to visit Beijing.

"We attach importance to military exchanges between the two departments of defence but there are no specific arrangements yet," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters, declining to comment further.

Last week, the deputy head of the PLA general staff, Ma Xiaotian, said US arms sales to self-ruled Taiwan -- which China sees as part of its territory -- were the "foremost obstacles" to US-China military ties.

General Ma is scheduled to attend the Singapore conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, but US officials said Gates would not be meeting the general because they said the delegation was not at a high enough level.

The Pentagon chief said there had been hints that China would cancel the visit despite an earlier invitation, and US officials were told last week in Beijing that it "would not be a good time for me to come."

He said US-China relations were moving forward on all fronts "with the sole exception of the military-to-military relationship."

"Whether this is a result of pushback by the PLA or there is some other factor, it's very difficult for us to tell."

With North Korea's alleged sinking of a South Korean warship expected to dominate the Singapore conference, Gates acknowledged that face-to-face talks with Chinese military leaders on the crisis would have been helpful.

"But we're not interested if they're not interested," he said.


Honda's China strike a lesson for Japanese exporters - Analysis

TOKYO, June  3, 2010 (AFP) - After an unprecedented strike logjammed Honda's China production line, Japanese firms in the country may need to redraw their plans in a growing market that has emboldened low-wage workers, analysts say.

As China's economy surges, demands for higher wages a posing a headache for Japanese companies facing higher costs but could also be a boon for others banking on rising incomes to spur demand for high-quality goods.

Japan's number two carmaker on Wednesday restarted operations at its auto parts factory after offering a 24 percent pay rise to placate staff who had walked out on May 27.

But Honda's Chinese assembly joint ventures, Guangqi Honda Automobile and Dongfeng Honda Automobile, remained closed due to a lack of key components, the company said.

Honda produces 650,000 vehicles per year in China but it has lost thousands of units because of the shutdown.

"We never expected something like this would happen," said Tokai Tokyo Research Centre auto analyst Mamoru Kato.

After the Honda strike "Chinese workers will likely be encouraged to start making more demands and such situations will inevitably increase production costs there," he added.

According to the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, nearly a quarter of Chinese employees have not had a raise in five years.

Labour issues in China have come to the forefront in recent weeks after suicides at Taiwanese high tech maker Foxconn, which counts Dell, Sony and Panasonic among its clients, forced it to give staff a 30 percent rise.

The unrest has raised questions about working conditions for the millions of employees in China's factories, sparking calls for better oversight from those who benefit from Chinese labour and a ban on unions.

"As the Chinese economy grows and people's income rises, companies are now facing the need to review their strategies," said Mizuno Credit Advisory auto analyst Tatsuya Mizuno.

Yang Lixiong, professor at School of Labor and Human Resources of Renmin university in Beijing said opportunities at foreign companies are limited for Chinese staff.

"In the case of Honda, the management is mostly Japanese. It's very hard for local staff to work their way up. In addition to that, salaries are very low and working conditions are not good," he added.

To curb the effects of rising wages Japanese businesses are harnessing economies of scale that would effectively bring down unit costs.

Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn recently announced plans to ramp up production to more than one million cars a year in China by 2012.

Honda sold 576,223 vehicles in China last year, up 23 percent year-on-year and Toyota saw sales rise 21 percent.

Fashion retailer Uniqlo aims to open 1,000 stores in China by 2020 and achieve more than 10 billion dollars in sales.

And Sharp said it will double the number of outlets in China for its popular Aquos televisions to 10,000 this year and boost its lineup to more than 30 models from the current 24.

But rising wages are not necessarily bad as richer consumers have more purchasing power, analysts said.

Japan, which has long had a reputation for craftsmanship, "can only compete in the high-end market as it has already lost out to local rivals in terms of affordability," Okasan Securities strategist Hirokazu Fujiki recently said.

"Japanese companies need to win out by targeting the mid-to-high level consumers."

 They must also address Chinese resentment against Japanese workers due to their long and tense history.

Chinese Honda staff complain Japanese workers in the same factory earn 50 times more than them.

"Chinese workers seem to have a strong sentiment of being discriminated by Japanese employees," said Mizuno.

"This may become a more emotional, fundamental issue, which could potentially develop into a political problem," he warned.


Microsoft sets up new research centre in Taiwan

TAIPEI, June  3, 2010 (AFP) - US software giant Microsoft inaugurated a research centre in Taiwan Thursday focused on cloud computing, a new technology attracting significant interest among the island's high-tech firms.

Cloud computing refers to applications or data storage hosted online by technology firms instead of being installed and maintained on users' machines.

The opening of the centre was a "milestone... in the era of cloud computing", said Steven Guggenheimer, a Microsoft vice president, at Computex Taipei, Asia's largest IT trade fair.

Microsoft Corp declined to say how much it would invest in the centre, or how many people would be employed there.

The company says it plans to spend 9.5 billion US dollars in research and development projects in 2010, a considerable portion of which will go to cloud-computing technologies.

More than 1,700 exhibitors are taking part in the five-day Computex Taipei, which opened Monday.

The trade show features 4,861 booths and is expected to greet around 120,000 visitors, including 35,000 international buyers, organisers say.

They expect the fair to generate around 20 billion US dollars in business.


Angry passengers attack workers in China airport over delays

BEIJING, June  3, 2010 (AFP) - Passengers furious about delays last month at a major Chinese airport vented their frustration by attacking about two dozen employees, state media said Thursday.

Torrential rain in the southern city of Guangzhou in May wreaked havoc on flight schedules, triggering 35 incidents at the Baiyun airport, which left 23 employees with minor injuries, the Guangzhou Daily said.

"June and July are also prime months for rainstorms in Guangzhou, and Baiyun airport hopes that passengers who encounter flight delays will be calm and reasonably cooperate with the airport's work," the newspaper said.

According to the report, airport workers said flight delays had increased from previous years due to rainstorms, and so passengers' aggressive behaviour had also increased.

Baiyun airport is one of the busiest in China, which has been expanding its airport infrastructure as the number of air passengers has soared over the past decade, but delays remain widespread throughout the country.

Airline traffic in China is expected to exceed 700 million passengers a year by 2020 and then double that figure by 2030, the official Xinhua news agency recently reported, citing the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).



Former president George W. Bush joins Facebook

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2010 (AFP) - Facebook  has a new member -- former US president George W. Bush.

Bush joined the fast-growing social network on Wednesday and his profile page, facebook.com/georgewbush, attracted more than 2,000 fans within a few hours.

The first post on the page touted Bush's accomplishments since leaving office in January 2009.

"President Bush has remained active," it said.

"He has visited 20 states and 8 countries; given over 65 speeches; launched the George W. Bush Presidential Center; participated in 4 policy conferences through The Bush Institute; finished the first draft of his memoir, 'Decision Points'; and partnered with (former) President (Bill) Clinton to establish the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund."

The next post touted the memoir written by former first lady Laura Bush, "Spoken from the Heart," noting that it was number one on The New York Times bestseller list for the third consecutive week.

Laura Bush also has a Facebook page and more than 16,500 fans.

The messages visible on Bush's page were overwhelmingly positive although a Facebook user named Brent Bender posted "You were an incredibly incompetent president" and others complained that their comments had been deleted.

Most messages were along the lines of this from Matt Thullen: "God bless you, and thank you for your leadership of this great country. You are missed!"

Or this from Victoria Newton: "Welcome to Facebook! Thank you for your service to our country. We love you and miss you!"

Google's Chrome computing system to debut in autumn

TAIPEI, June  2, 2010 (AFP) - Google said Wednesday it is planning to release its Chrome operating system, seen as a rival to Microsoft's Windows system, for free in the autumn.

"We are working on bringing the device later this fall," said Google vice president of product management Sundar Pichai at CompuTex Taipei, Asia's biggest IT trade show.

"It's something which we are very excited by ... We expect it to reach millions of users on day one," he said.

The open source operating system is based on the Chrome browser, which is designed to work exclusively with web applications.

More than 70 million people use the Chrome browser, according to Google.

However, the jury is still out on Google's ability to challenge Microsoft, analysts said, pointing out that it remains to be seen if hardware manufacturers will launch Chrome-based products.

Steve Jobs champions Apple and doles out wisdom at D8

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, June  2, 2010 (AFP) - Apple chief executive Steve Jobs on Tuesday doled out technology world wisdom that included not being rude to competitors or falling in love with Internet television boxes.

Jobs defended Apple tactics and fielded questions confidently during a lengthy on-stage interview at an All Things Digital conference in the Southern California town of Rancho Palos Verdes.

The fact that Apple's stock market value has topped that of Microsoft "is a little surreal for those of us who have been in the industry a long time," said Jobs.

Apple TV devices that hit the market in early 2007 remain classified as "a hobby" at the firm. Jobs appeared unconvinced that Google could ignite the market with Internet television hardware to be launched later this year.

"The TV is going to lose in our eyes until there is a better go-to-market strategy," Jobs said.

"No one wants to buy a box. Ask TiVo, ask Roku, ask us ... ask Google in a few months."

Jobs sidestepped whether he felt Google had betrayed Apple by going from an ally to a rival, with Android-software based smartphones challenging iPhones and now Google TV that will compete with Apple TV devices.

"We didn't go into the search business," Jobs said, adding Apple has no plans to do so in the future. "They started competing with us and got more and more serious."

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt resigned from the Apple board of directors last year as the companies increasingly became rivals.

Jobs said Apple doesn't intend to block Google software from the firm's iPhones, iPods, iPads, and Macintosh computers.

"Just because we're competing with somebody doesn't mean we have to be rude," Jobs said.

Jobs was not so kind to Adobe Systems, standing behind a ban on widely used Flash video software in Apple gadgets.

Jobs dismissed Flash as an antiquated program giving way to a new HTML 5 format.

"Sometimes you just have to pick the things that look like they're going to be the right kind of horses to ride going forward, and Flash looks like a technology that had it's day but is really waning," Jobs said.

"HTML5 looks like the technology that is really on the ascendancy right now."

Apple's iconic leader also defended the company's harsh reaction to a new-generation iPhone prototype getting into the hands of technology news website Gizmodo, which paid for the gadget and posted an analysis online.

Apple referred the matter to police as a crime and investigators last month raided a home of Gizmodo editor in a hunt for evidence.

Gizmodo said it bought the iPhone prototype from someone who found it in a beer garden, where it was left by an Apple engineer celebrating his birthday.

"There is a debate as to whether it was left in a bar or stolen out of his bag," Jobs said.

Jobs told of being counseled to ignore the loss of the prototype on the grounds that Apple should avoid ugly press sure to result from going after journalists.

"I thought deeply about this and I ended up concluding that the worst thing that could possibly happen as we get big and we get a little more influence in the world is that we change our core values and start letting it slide,"Jobs said.

"I can't do that," he continued. "I'd rather quit."

Jobs stood up for the Foxconn factory in China where iPhones are made, saying the facility "is not a sweatshop" and that much effort is being put into putting an end to a rash of suicides there this year.

He predicted an inexorable shift from desk top personal computers (PCs) to mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers in a "post-PC era."


2010/06/02

Foxconn confirms another employee death

BEIJING, June  2, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn on Wednesday confirmed the death of another employee but denied he died of exhaustion following a spate of suicides at its Chinese plants.

Yan Li, 27, died on Friday after working the night shift for more than a month at a Foxconn plant in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, China Labor Watch said, citing Yan's sister, and adding that he was killed by exhaustion.

"We have reviewed this matter and while we cannot speculate the specific cause of death, we have found nothing to support any allegation that it was work-related," a spokesman for Foxconn said in a statement.

"We have met with Mrs Yan and expressed our condolences and as a compassionate gesture have provided a level of support to assist her at this very difficult time."

Foxconn, which makes a range of top-selling products including Apple iPhones, Dell computers and Nokia mobile phones, said earlier Wednesday it was raising the pay of its Chinese assembly line workers by 30 percent.

Ten workers at the giant Foxconn plant in Shenzhen have fallen to their deaths in apparent suicides this year. An 11th worker died at another factory in northern China.

The deaths have raised questions about the conditions for millions of factory workers in China, especially at Foxconn, where the activists say long hours, low pay and high pressure are the norm.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs on Tuesday defended conditions at Foxconn, saying it was "not a sweatshop".

"You go in this place and it's a factory but, my gosh, they've got restaurants and movie theatres and hospitals and swimming pools. For a factory, it's pretty nice," Jobs said during an All Things Digital conference in the southern California coastal town of Rancho Palos Verdes.


Taiwan to test missile that could reach Beijing: report

TAIPEI, June  2, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan is to test a missile for the first time that could hit Beijing, a report said Wednesday.

The island's defence ministry immediately denied the report on the medium-range surface-to-surface missile, but said research was being carried out on "various weapons systems".

The missile, designed to hit targets up to 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) away, will be launched Thursday and Friday from Chiupeng, a tightly-guarded base in southern Taiwan, Taipei-based Next Magazine said.

If successful, the weapons project codenamed "Ching Sheng" would move into mass production stage, according to the usually well-informed magazine.

The defence ministry plans to deploy 150 such missiles, on top of 240 existing cruise missiles, to form one of the island's main deterrents against Chinese attack, it said.

The medium-range missiles could also be used to strike other major Chinese cities like Shanghai and Chongqing as well as its ballistic missile bases in eastern and southeast China, it said.

"Research and development of various weapons systems have been carried out as scheduled," a defence ministry official told AFP, but added that "the content of the report is not true".

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased significantly since President Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008, pledging to boost trade links and allowing in more Chinese tourists.

Yet Beijing still refuses to renounce the use of force against Taiwan should it declare formal independence, prompting the island to seek more defensive weapons.

The island has governed itself since it split from the mainland in 1949 at the end of a civil war.
The magazine said China had boosted the number of its missiles aimed at the island from 300 in 2001 to 1,400 in 2008.

Apple chief says Foxconn runs a "pretty nice" factory

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, June  2, 2010 (AFP) - Apple chief executive Steve Jobs on Tuesday defended conditions at Taiwan-based Foxconn, an iPhone-linked electronics producer plagued by a rash of worker suicides in China.

"Foxconn is not a sweatshop," Jobs said during an on-stage chat at a prestigious All Things Digital conference in the southern California coastal town of Rancho Palos Verdes.

"You go in this place and it's a factory but, my gosh, they've got restaurants and movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools. For a factory, it's pretty nice."

Apple representatives are at Foxconn trying to figure out why there have been a total of 13 suicides and suicide attempts so far this year at its plants in China and what can be done to derail the trend, according to Jobs.

"We're all over this," Jobs said. "I actually think Apple does one of the best jobs of any company in the industry and maybe any industry of understanding the working conditions in the supply chain."

Apple contracts Foxconn to make the iPhone, which have become must-have gadgets around the world.

Jobs theorized that young people leaving poor rural communities for jobs at Foxconn factories that are cities unto themselves might be overwhelmed trying to adjust to their new environments and to being far from friends and family.

Many workers are from poor inland provinces and harbor dreams of making big money in places like Shenzhen, the cradle of China's astonishing economic revolution over the border from Hong Kong.

They work up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, assembling products that most cannot afford to buy themselves: Apple iPhones, Dell computers and Nokia mobiles.

"I think there are some real issues there," Jobs said. "We're trying to understand, before going in with a solution."

A recent spate of suicides at Foxconn -- 11 workers have leapt to their deaths from company buildings since the start of the year -- has thrown a spotlight on China's factory conditions and the 200 million migrant workers who are helping to drive its economic rise.

The number of suicides at Foxconn is well below the official national average of roughly seven per 100,000 people.

Foxconn's billionaire founder has pledged to address the problem while defending the company and blaming the suicides largely on workers' "personal problems".

Global military spending soars despite crisis: report

STOCKHOLM, June  1, 2010 (AFP) - Global military expenditures soared to a record high last year, unscathed by the economic downturn, with the United States accounting for more than half of increase, a think tank said Wednesday.

In 2009, 1,531 billion dollars (1,244 billion euros) were spent worldwide in the military sector, a 5.9 percent rise from 2008 and a 49 percent jump from 2000, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in its report.

"Many countries were increasing public spending generally in 2009, as a way of boosting demand to combat the recession," explained Sam Perlo-Freeman, the head of SIPRI's military expenditure project.

"Although military spending wasn't usually a major part of the economic stimulus packages, it wasn't cut either," he said in a statement.

The institute said 65 percent of countries for which data was available had hiked their military spending last year.

The United States remains by far the top military spender, dishing out 661 billion dollars to the industry in 2009, or a whopping 43 percent of the total global military expenditure.

Washington thus paid 47 billion dollars more than a year earlier and accounted for 54 percent of the global increase, SIPRI said.

China is believed to be the world's second largest military spender, the institute said, adding that while it did not have access to the official figures from Beijing it estimated the country had spent around 100 billion dollars in the sector last year.

With its 63.9 billion dollars in military expenditures last year, France came in third place, SIPRI said.

"The figures also demonstrate that for major or intermediate powers such as the US, China, Russia, India and Brazil, military spending represents a long-term strategic choice which they are willing to make even in hard economic times," Perlo-Freeman said.

A portion of the 2009 military spending hike can be attributed to a sharp increase in so-called peacekeeping operations, especially in Afghanistan, which also reached record levels last year.

In all, 54 peacekeeping missions took place around the globe in 2009, costing a record total of 9.1 billion dollars, SIPRI said.

In terms of deployed personnel, last year was also record-breaking, the institute said: 219,278 people, 89 percent of whom were military personnel, were deployed, up 16 percent from 2008.

"The increase was due to troop reinforcement for existing peace operations, most significantly for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan," the report said.

The United States last year "more than doubled its troop levels in Afghanistan and annual US spending in Afghanistan now exceeds that in Iraq," SIPRI said, pointing out that 65 billion dollars had been proposed for Afghanistan operations in the 2010 budget request, while 61 billion had been set aside for Iraq.

Most of the military spending in Afghanistan had gone towards "counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and the strengthening of the Afghan security forces," the institute said.

The institute however voiced some optimism that the military operations in Afghanistan could soon end, pointing out that "the international community is clearly weary of the struggle."

"Two NATO members have already unilaterally decided to pull out (and) there is a tangible and growing sense of 'end game' in and around Afghanistan that is likely to intensify over the next 12 months," it said.

Wednesday's SIPRI report also estimated that there were around 8,100 operational nuclear warheads in the arsenals of the world's eight nuclear-armed states: the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan and Israel.

"Of these, almost 2,000 were kept on high alert and capable of being launched in minutes," the report said.

One man's battle to save China's ancient architecture - Interview

BEIJING, June  2, 2010 (AFP) - Every week, He Shuzhong receives dozens of phone calls, emails and letters from people across China warning him that another piece of ancient architecture is about to be bulldozed.

The former university professor has spent nearly three decades battling to save traditional hutongs (alleys formed by lines of courtyard houses) and temples, some dating back hundreds of years, from the wrecking ball.

Thousands of historic buildings have been lost, but He said he takes comfort from the growing number of people joining the fight to preserve what is left.

"Destruction takes place every day," He, 48, the founder of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre, said in an interview with AFP.

"The more phone calls we get the more excited I become because it shows more and more people care about the issue."

Since China embarked on economic reforms 30 years ago, many of the country's historic sites and districts have been forcibly demolished to make way for apartment blocks, office buildings and roads.

He said strict laws protecting traditional architecture from demolition are often steamrollered by crooked local officials and powerful property developers looking to make a profit.

"If you look at the laws and Communist Party documents, you would think China was the most determined country in the world to protect its culture," he said.

"But enforcement is bad due to powerful interests and government corruption."

Since his university days in Shanghai in the early 1980s, He has been campaigning against rampant destruction of historic buildings and trying to raise the awareness of Chinese people about their heritage.

"(In the 1980s) even in the most advanced cities of Beijing and Shanghai, most people had little respect for tradition and culture," said He.

"Maybe it was because we were poor for so long and we were lagging so far behind that we didn't have the time and energy to think about this problem."

In 2003, He set up the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre to advise communities nationwide on how to protect important buildings and to educate people and officials about the importance of preserving historic sites.

"I don't wish everybody to go back to the ancient era, wearing long robes and so on, but everybody should have a minimum level of respect," He said.

"I want to make Chinese people understand, respect and protect their cultural heritage and through this process they will become more responsible, civilised and well-mannered."

With the help of thousands of volunteers spread across the country, the centre has waged dozens of battles against proposed developments, with mixed results.

Early this year, the group stopped a real estate developer from destroying the former Beijing home of architects Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin, a married couple famous for their work last century.

Less successful has been their campaign to save the old city of Kashgar, an ancient Silk Road outpost in the far-western Xinjiang region.

Local authorities are bulldozing the maze of alleyways and mud-brick buildings and relocating residents to modern apartments, and the centre's battle appears to be lost.

Now He and his volunteers are trying to stop authorities from redeveloping the streets surrounding the Drum and Bell Towers in Beijing, which were used to tell the time from the 13th century Yuan dynasty until the 1920s.

The five-billion-yuan (732-million-dollar) redevelopment project plans to turn the district into a "Beijing Time Cultural City" with shopping malls and car parks.

"The district is very rare in Beijing and even in the country and should be preserved as it is and in its entirety," said He.

Despite the loss of so many historically important buildings and areas, He remains optimistic.
The pace of demolition has slowed in the past decade as more Chinese people join the campaign to safeguard the nation's past.

"The destruction of buildings is still very serious but 10 years ago it was even worse," He said.

"Ten years ago when I gave a speech to a room big enough to hold 200-300 people it was very common to see only two or three people in the audience.

"Now it is packed."

He -- who also works at the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, an agency under the culture ministry -- said he has no plans to stop fighting to save what is left of China's classic architecture.

"I will do what I feel is most needed, most valuable and what I am best at," said He.
"I have no interest in doing other things."


Woman stabs nine in China train rampage: report

BEIJING, June  2, 2010 (AFP) - A woman armed with a knife went on the rampage on an overnight passenger train in northeastern China, stabbing and wounding nine people as they slept, state media reported on Wednesday.

The attack, which occurred in the early morning Tuesday on a train in Heilongjiang province, is the latest in a wave of violent attacks by lone assailants that has shocked the country.

The woman, who was not identified, went from berth to berth stabbing  sleeping passengers until she was wrestled to the ground and restrained by other travellers, said Dongbei, a news website covering China's northeast.

The woman was estimated by witnesses to be about 40 years old, but no other details about her were provided.

The train had been travelling from the provincial capital of Harbin to the city of Hebei. The victims received treatment when the train stopped in the city of Jiamusi, but the report did not say how serious their injuries were.

The attack occurred the same day that a bank guard opened fire in a court building in central China's Hunan province, shooting three judges dead and wounding three other people before killing himself, the local government said.

Zhu Jun, 46, had reportedly been angered by another court's ruling on a division of assets in his divorce three years ago.

China also has seen a spate of bloody attacks on young schoolchildren around the country since March that have left 17 people dead, including 15 pupils, and scores injured.

The attacks have triggered an intense debate about the reasons behind them, with some experts saying China had not attached enough importance to mental health amid rapid social change triggered by decades of booming economic growth.

Microsoft sticks up for Windows operating system

SAN FRANCISCO, June  2, 2010 (AFP) - Microsoft on Tuesday publicly defended Windows in the face of unconfirmed reports that Google was shunning the operating system due to security concerns.

Google declined to respond to an AFP inquiry, saying only: "As a rule, we don't comment on operational matters."

Microsoft, however, felt that stories published in the Financial Times and elsewhere warranted a fast, firm rebuttal.

Unnamed sources at Google were quoted in the Times as saying that new hires at the US Internet colossus have been given the option of using Apple Macintosh computers or machines running on Linux open-source software.

Sanctioning moves away from Windows operating systems was described as part of a "security effort" triggered by an attack from China-based hackers that led to Google shutting down its filtered search engine in that country.

Google is also believed to be interested in shifting to a Chrome operating system it is building as a rival to Windows.

"There's been some coverage overnight about the security of Windows and whether or not one particular company is reducing its use of Windows," Brandon LeBlanc of Microsoft said in a blog post at the technology giant's website.

"We thought this was a good opportunity to set the record straight."

LeBlanc touted Windows safeguards and noted that security concerns have also been aimed at software built by Google and Apple.

"When it comes to security, even hackers admit we're doing a better job making our products more secure than anyone else," he said.

"And it's not just the hackers; third-party influentials and industry leaders like Cisco tell us regularly that our focus and investment continues to surpass others."

Windows is the foundation of Microsoft's global software empire.


China to subsidise purchases of green vehicles

BEIJING, June  1, 2010 (AFP) - China said Tuesday it would subsidise purchases of alternative energy vehicles in five cities amid efforts to reduce emissions, save energy and spur the development of green technology.

The government will offer buyers subsidies of up to 50,000 yuan (7,300 dollars) for plug-in hybrid passenger cars and 60,000 yuan for pure electric vehicles, the finance ministry said on its website.

The long-awaited subsidy programme will be trialled in Shanghai, the northeastern city of Changchun, the southern city of Shenzhen and the eastern cities of Hangzhou and Hefei, the statement said.

The government did not say when the trials would begin or how long they would last.
Alarmed by worsening pollution and a soaring reliance on oil, China is pushing green energy technologies, saying it wants sales of such vehicles to account for 10-15 percent of total sales by 2020.

China last year overtook the United States to become the world's biggest auto market.
The government had been expected in January to announce subsidies for alternative-energy vehicles that would make them more affordable for price-sensitive Chinese consumers.

However, Beijing reportedly delayed the announcement to seek further input from automakers.

World's first iPad lookalike on sale in China

HONG KONG, June  1, 2010 (AFP) - Apple may have sold two million of its new iPad tablet computers in less than two months, but it now has a Chinese challenger -- the identical looking iPed.

Apple's iPad is not, officially, even on sale yet in China but the iPed can be bought in Shenzhen, southern China, for almost a fifth of the price of the US price of Apple's gadget.

The world's first iPad lookalike runs on Google's Android operating system, is apparently powered by an Intel chip and sells for 105 dollars. The basic model iPad sells in the US for 499 dollars.

Pictures of the iPed, filmed by Japanese TV news and posted on YouTube, show the gadget being sold in a Shenzhen computer mall in packaging that even looks like an iPad box.

The change in vowel is seemingly the only major difference in appearance between the two gadgets.

A review of the iPed on tech website TECHi says "the iPed is exactly what you're thinking: a Chinese knock-off."

"The iPed is an Intel-driven, Android-based copycat packaged like an Apple product and, to be honest -- it doesn't look half bad."

Last week, Apple and its contract electronics manufacturer Foxconn refused to confirm or deny rumours that the iPad was being made at Foxconn's massive Shenzhen factory, which has been hit by a spate of staff suicides.

Apple, now the largest US technology company by value, said Monday it had sold two million iPads, outdoing even the iPhone on its launch.

Last Friday, the flat, 10-inch (25-centimetre) black tablet computer that Apple claims will revolutionise the industry went on sale in Australia, Japan, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

Demand in the United States was so strong that the company pushed back the global roll-out. It goes on sale in nine more countries in July, including Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Last week, Apple dethroned software giant Microsoft as the largest US technology company in terms of market value.


2010/06/01

China bank adviser says property woes more severe than US

BEIJING, June  1, 2010 (AFP) - China's housing market problems are worse than those in the United States before the global downturn as they could stoke public discontent, a central bank adviser has warned.

The comments were made before China's State Council, or cabinet, announced it would "gradually reform the real estate tax" -- the first official sign of a possible annual levy on residential housing aimed at reining in soaring prices.

"The housing market problem in China is actually much, much more fundamental, much bigger than the housing market problem in the US and UK before your financial crisis," said Li Daokui, a member of the bank's monetary policy committee.

"It is more than (just) a bubble problem," he told the Financial Times in an interview published Tuesday.

The property market in the United States collapsed as too many people were unable to repay their high-risk, or sub-prime mortgages, leading to a credit crunch in which thousands lost their homes and lending dried up.

China has recently introduced a range of measures to prevent the growth of asset bubbles and soaring property prices.

The latest tax plan was expected to discourage property speculation and help replenish the coffers of local governments, which have been severely depleted by an investment binge over the past year, Chinese media reports have said.

Li said recent government measures to rein in the property market needed to be part of a long-term push to bring high housing prices under control, the Financial Times reported.

He warned the high cost of housing could hamper future growth by slowing urbanisation.

Rising prices were also a potential political flashpoint, especially among younger people who felt locked out of having their own home.

"When prices go up, many people, especially young people, become very anxious," he said. "It is a social problem."

He added that there were still signs that the economy was overheating and recommended modest increases in deposit interest rates and the value of the Chinese currency, the report said.

Authorities have tightened restrictions on advance sales of new property developments, introduced new curbs on loans for third home purchases, and raised minimum downpayments for second homes.

Official data showed real estate prices in 70 cities jumped 12.8 percent in April, the fastest year-on-year rise for a single month in five years.


Apple sells two million iPads

PARIS, May 31, 2010 (AFP) - Apple, now the largest US technology company by value, said Monday it had sold two million of its iPad tablet computers, outdoing even the iconic iPhone on its launch.

Apple said it had sold 1.4 million iPads since it went on sale exclusively in the United States on April 3.

On Friday, the iPad -- a flat, 10-inch (25-centimetre) black tablet computer that Apple claims will revolutionise the industry -- went on sale in Australia, Japan, Canada alongside Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

Demand in the United States was so strong that the company pushed back the global roll-out.

Apple head Steve Jobs said in a statement that clients all over the world were now able to experience the iPad and seemed to like it as much as the company itself.

Apple was very grateful for their patience and was now doing everything in its power to make sure there were enough iPads for everyone, Jobs added.

The iPad goes on sale in nine additional countries in July, including Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Last week, Apple dethroned software giant Microsoft as the largest US technology company in terms of market value.

2010/05/31

Japan, China launch 'cartoon' diplomacy - Lead

TOKYO, May 31, 2010 (AFP) - Putting aside their diplomatic rivalry, Japan and China agreed on Monday to hold joint animation and TV drama festivals to promote grassroots cultural exchange.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao reached the accord with Japanese counterpart Yukio Hatoyama during a visit to Tokyo, where he was also given a kimono-clad Hello Kitty doll, the country's icon of cute.

The two leaders agreed that each country will hold a festival or a special week next year to showcase the other's screen offerings, such as animation and TV drama series, a Japanese official said.

"We accepted the Chinese proposal because it's a good offer," the official said after the summit meeting. "It will be a good opportunity for both of us to promote our cultural exchange."

As part of his own effort to boost cultural understanding, Wen said he had enjoyed watching Japan's Oscar-winning film "Departures", which had been recommended to him by Hatoyama.

The film, "Okuribito" in Japanese, depicting the esoteric practices of an undertaker who works to preserve a person's dignity after death, was named Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Academy Awards.

Japanese screen cartoons, known as "anime", have won a progressively larger audience around the world, including in China.

A previous administration in Tokyo set up an annual prize for foreign comics to promote "manga", as they are known in Japan, as an international artform.

Wen also attended a meeting of leading figures in arts and culture from both countries, held at a Tokyo hotel, where he received the Hello Kitty doll from manufacturer Sanrio's president Shintaro Tsuji.

"I hope Chinese children will make friends with Japanese through this little Kitty," said Tsuji, pointing out that Hello Kitty dolls are designed in Japan but made in China.

Wen said his grandchild would be happy with the gift.

A Chinese participant showed off cartoon portraits of both Wen and Hatoyama, who was depicted looking like Astro Boy, a classic robot character created by manga legend Osamu Tezuka.

Honda says production 'partially resumes' at China plant

SHANGHAI, May 31, 2010 (AFP) - Japan's second-largest automaker Honda Motor said Monday production had "partially resumed" at a parts factory in China where an unprecedented strike has forced the company to close other plants.

Honda's assembly lines in China came to a halt last week due to a lack of parts from Honda Auto Parts Manufacturing Co, located in the southern city of Foshan.

A Tokyo-based Honda spokeswoman said that despite a partial restart at the parts plant Monday, production at all four of its car assembly factories would remain frozen Tuesday as negotiations with striking workers continued.

"Parts production has partially restarted this afternoon, but auto assembly will not be restarting yet," said Honda spokeswoman Natsuno Asanuma, without giving further details.

"We need more time."

She said Honda's Chinese joint ventures, Guangqi Honda Automobile and Dongfeng Honda Automobile, would stay closed Tuesday as negotiations continued at the transmission and engine components unit.

Production at Guangqi Honda Automobile Co., Honda's 50-50 joint venture with China's Guangzhou Automobile Group, stopped a week ago. The venture's two plants are in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong.

Output at Dongfeng Honda Automobile Co, the company's other joint venture, located in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, came to a standstill Wednesday afternoon. The venture also operates two factories.

"Negotiations are still ongoing, we haven't reached a final point of conclusion and we have a lot to talk about," Asanuma said.

Earlier Honda's Beijing-based spokesman Zhu Linjie told AFP there had been "some progress" in talks, adding that he hoped production would resume "as soon as possible".

Chinese media have reported that Honda's workers are seeking higher wages, which currently average less than 1,500 yuan (220 dollars) per month.

Zhu said the carmaker had twice put forward improved compensation packages in the talks, without offering details.

Honda sold 576,223 vehicles in China last year, up 23 percent from the previous year. Its Chinese sales rose 31 percent in April from a year earlier to 55,113 units.


Taiwan's Asustek launches tablet computers

TAIPEI, May 31, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan's Asustek unveiled a new tablet device Monday combining an e-notepad and e-book reader as Taipei prepares to host Asia's biggest information technology trade fair.

With prices starting at 199 US dollars, the Eee Tablet "allows users to write on the screen just the way people write on their notebooks," a company spokesman told a news conference.

It also "features the functions of more powerful than general electronic books," he said ahead of Computex Taipei, which opens Tuesday.

Users will be able to turn a page as if reading a book and take a picture of handwritten text using a built-in camera before transforming it into a digital note. The device will hit stores in September.

And just days after Apple launched the much-anticipated iPad globally, Asustek also revealed the Eee Pad, which runs on Microsoft's Windows 7 and comes with a 10-inch or a 12-inch screen.

It expects the gadget to be available from the first quarter of next year, at up to 449 US dollars.

More than 1,700 exhibitors are taking part in the five-day Computex Taipei, featuring 4,861 booths and expected to greet around 120,000 visitors, including 35,000 international buyers, organisers say.

They expect the fair to generate around 20 billion US dollars in business.


Singapore church officials in money misuse probe

SINGAPORE, May 31, 2010 (AFP) - Singapore police are probing allegations that members of one of the island nation's biggest churches misused money belonging to the congregation, police and reports said Monday.

A dedicated white-collar crime unit, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), began investigating the matter following complaints by people City Harvest Church.

"CAD officers visited the offices of the individuals and the companies under investigation this morning and have secured records and accounts for the purpose of the investigations," a police statement said.

The police gave no further details but the Straits Times newspaper reported on its website that 12 people were under suspicion in the investigation, which involved accounts falsification and criminal breach of trust.

City Harvest Church has a congregation of nearly 33,000, according to its website.

The church made local headlines in March when it paid 310 million Singapore dollars (220 million US) to become a co-owner of the Suntec City Convention Centre in the business district.

Waters off Singapore's southeastern coastline clear of oil

SINGAPORE, May 31, 2010 (AFP) - Waters off Singapore's southeastern coastline have been cleared of oil after seven days of containment and cleaning efforts, port authorities said Monday.

"As of 31 May 2010, waters from Changi Naval Base to East Coast Park were clear of any oil patches," said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) in a press release issued Monday evening.

Oil patches which had drifted into Malaysian waters were also being cleaned up, said the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

"Clean-up efforts are under way and based on our assessments, it will be completed in three days," an MMEA spokesman told AFP.

No new oil patches had drifted into Malaysian waters since Sunday, Singapore's MPA added.

"We did not receive any further reports or sightings of oil patches in Malaysia waters off Tanjong Pengelih today," an MPA spokeswoman told AFP.

On Sunday, the MPA said patches of oil had been sighted off Tanjong Pengelih in southern Malaysia and waters off Singapore's eastern coast.

The spill came from the Malaysian-registered MT Bunga Kelana 3, a tanker carrying 62,000 tonnes of crude when it collided last Tuesday off Singapore with the MV Waily, a bulk carrier registered in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

About 2,500 tonnes of crude leaked from a gash in the double-hulled tanker but most of it was contained at sea, according to the MPA.

Singapore is a compact island republic known for its strict environmental standards, but the heavy maritime traffic off its coasts makes it vulnerable to the effects of shipping disasters.


AirAsia says profits up in Q1, optimistic for year

KUALA LUMPUR, May 31, 2010 (AFP) - Budget carrier AirAsia said Monday its net profit had risen 10 percent in the first quarter of 2010 due to a strong increase in passenger numbers as demand improved region-wide.

Asia's largest low-cost carrier by fleet size said its net profit for the three months to March 31 had risen to 224.1 million ringgit (67.9 million dollars) compared to 203.2 million a year earlier.

"We are optimistic for the rest of the year," AirAsia Goup chief executive Tony Fernandes said in a telephone conference. "We are looking up good for the second quarter and very strong for third quarter."

Revenue for the quarter ended March 31 was up 10 percent year-on-year at 878 million ringgit. First quarter passenger numbers rose 17.1 percent to 3.69 million, from 3.15 million a year earlier.

AirAsia's capacity increased 11.1 percent over the same period, resulting in its passenger load factor rising to 74 percent from 70 percent in the first quarter of 2009.

The firm's Thai and Indonesian operations had registered "sustained turnaround," Fernandes said.

The airline's fleet size as of March 31 was 48 aircraft compared with 44 a year earlier.

2010/05/30

North Korean anti-Seoul rally draws 100,000: state media

SEOUL, May 30, 2010 (AFP) - A rally in Pyongyang on Sunday accusing South Korea of heightening cross-border tensions over the sinking of one of its warships drew 100,000 people, according to North Korean state media.

The demonstration was held at Kim Il-Sung Square, named after the North Korea's founder and the current ruler's father, according to the state broadcasting network monitored by the South's Yonhap news agency.

Slogans painted on the stage at the rally denounced South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak as a traitor, it said.

Addressing the rally, Choe Yong-Rim, chief secretary of the city's party committee, urged citizens to brace themselves for an attack from South Korea and its ally the US, saying the peninsula was on the brink of war, it said.

He also rebutted Seoul's allegation that North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship with the loss of 46 lives, Yonhap said.

International investigators reported on May 20 that a North Korean submarine fired a heavy torpedo to sink the warship. The North has denied involvement, and responded to the South's reprisals with threats of war.

It has cut all ties with the South, scrapped pacts aimed at averting accidental flare-ups along their disputed sea border and vowed to attack any intruding ships.

Hong Kong activists march over Tiananmen protests

HONG KONG, May 30, 2010 (AFP) - Democracy campaigners marched through central Hong Kong on Sunday, a day after 13 activists were arrested for erecting a Tiananmen Square remembrance statue in a busy shopping district.

The march came ahead of an annual candlelit vigil this Friday -- which last year drew about 150,000 people -- to mark the anniversary of China's bloody crackdown on protesters at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Attendance estimates by police and organisers of the Sunday march varied widely. An AFP photographer at the scene estimated about 1,000 people wound their way through the city.

On Saturday, activists erected a "Goddess of Democracy" statue in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay district, local media reported -- a replica of one built by students during the Beijing protests 21 years ago.

Police scuffled with the group and arrested 13 activists before releasing them on bail later.

While Chinese authorities keep a tight lid on details about the Tiananmen protests, Hong Kong activists frequently cite the violent episode in their criticism of Beijing, which assumed control of the former British colony in 1997.

This weekend's protests come amid a bitter dispute over the future of direct elections in the territory, which has seen the city's democracy camp call for faster political reforms.

Five pro-democracy legislators resigned their seats in January in a bid to stoke what they said would be a de-facto referendum on the issue.

The resignations angered Beijing and split the city's pro-democracy movement.

Under the current electoral system, only half of Hong Kong's 60-seat legislature is directly elected while the rest is selected by the pro-China business elite. Campaigners want the entire parliament to be directly elected.

Beijing has said that, at the earliest, Hong Kong's leader can be directly elected by 2017 and the legislature by 2020.


Wen sees 'urgent' need to avoid clashes over sunken warship

SEOGWIPO, May 30, 2010 (AFP) - China's Premier Wen Jiabao said Sunday there is an "urgent" need to avoid clashes and ease tensions following the sinking of a South Korean warship.

But Wen, speaking after a summit with the Japanese and South Korean leaders, gave no indication that China is ready to join them in blaming North Korea for the incident.

"The urgent task now is to defuse the impact of the Cheonan incident, change the tense situation and avoid clashes," he told a press conference.

"China will actively communicate with relevant parties and lead the situation to help promote peace and stability in the region, which fits our common and long-term interests best."

South Korea announced reprisals against the North after international investigators reported on May 20 that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo to sink the Cheonan with the loss of 46 lives.

The North denies involvement and has responded to the reprisals with threats of war.

South Korea, the United States and Japan are seeking China's support to sanction -- or, at least, to censure -- North Korea at the United Nations Security Council.

Wen expressed condolences to the families of the victims and said China would work to promote regional peace and stability, but made no other comments about the sinking.

South Korea's President Lee Myung-Bak, at a joint press conference with Wen and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, said he expects "wise cooperation" by the neighbouring countries in handling the disaster.

Hatoyama, whose country Friday announced new sanctions on the North over the incident, said the three leaders agreed "that this is a serious issue related to peace and stability in Northeast Asia".


Taiwan hopes to boost flights to China

TAIPEI, May 30, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou said Sunday that "at least 200" more flights were needed each week between the island and the Chinese mainland to meet the growing demand from tourists.

"The current flights indeed are still far from enough. This issue has become the subject of complaints filed to the government," Ma said while visiting the capital's Sungshan airport.
"We need at least 200 more flights to meet the strong demand."

His remarks come barely a week after Taiwan and China lifted the number of their weekly cross-strait flights to 370, up from 270.

Tourists from the mainland made 344,000 visits to Taiwan in the first three months to March, nearly double the figure for the same period last year.

The number of mainland tourists in this period exceeds the 270,000 visits by Japanese tourists in the same quarter, according to official figures.

Tourists from the mainland made around 970,000 visits to Taiwan last year, trailing the 1,006,000 visits by Japanese tourists.

Beijing still considers self-ruled Taiwan a part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, after the two sides split in 1949 at the end of China's civil war.

Ties between the two sides have improved markedly since Ma came to power in 2008, pledging to boost trade links and tourism.

The two sides began direct chartered flights in 2008 and last year upgraded the charter services to scheduled flights in an agreement that also more than doubled the number of flights.


S.Korea, Japan fail to persuade China to censure N.Korea

SEOGWIPO, May 30, 2010 (AFP) - China resisted pressure Sunday from South Korea and Japan to censure North Korea publicly for the sinking of a warship, calling only for regional tensions over the incident to be defused.

Host President Lee Myung-Bak and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama teamed up at the two-day summit to nudge China's Premier Wen Jiabao to declare Pyongyang responsible for the March sinking of the South Korean corvette.

But Wen gave no sign that China is ready to back United Nations Security Council action against its ally over the sinking, which cost 46 lives.

"The urgent task now is to defuse the impact of the Cheonan incident, change the tense situation and avoid clashes," Wen told a joint press conference on the southern resort island of Jeju.

"China will actively communicate with relevant parties and lead the situation to help promote peace and stability in the region, which fits our common and long-term interests best."

South Korea announced reprisals including a trade cut-off after international investigators reported on May 20 that a North Korean submarine fired a heavy torpedo to sink the Cheonan.
The North denies involvement and has responded to the reprisals with threats of war, fuelling regional tensions.

In Pyongyang on Sunday, some 100,000 North Koreans held a rally accusing Seoul of heightening cross-border tensions over the sinking, according to the North's state broadcasting network monitored by Yonhap news agency.

The rally was led by slogans denouncing President Lee as a traitor, it said.

Wen, whose country is the North's economic lifeline, has been cautious since arriving in South Korea Friday.

At a meeting with Lee that day he said Beijing would, before determining its position, review the results of the international investigation into the Cheonan's sinking but would not protect whoever was responsible.

Lee said in Jeju that he expected "wise co-operation" from neighbouring countries in handling the disaster.

According to his senior spokesman Lee Dong-Kwan, Lee also told the summit: "We are not afraid of war, but we do not want war either. We have no intention to go to war."

Hatoyama, whose government Friday announced new sanctions against the North, said the three leaders agreed that "this is a serious issue related to peace and stability in Northeast Asia".

South Korea, at least in public, appeared fairly satisfied with the outcome of the Jeju summit.

"The inclusion of those remarks on the Cheonan in the joint press announcement in itself has significance," Lee's spokesman said.

But Paik Haksoon, of the Sejong Institute think-tank, said Wen's comments "indicate that China is still questioning the authenticity and authority of the investigation."

"There would be no point in taking this issue to the UN Security Council without securing support from China in advance," Paik told AFP.

Numerous countries have condemned the North for the sinking, one of the worst military attacks on the South since the 1950-53 war.

The North says Seoul faked evidence to incite tensions and boost its support before local elections this week.

South Korea, the United States and Japan need the support of veto-wielding member China to sanction -- or, at least, to censure -- the North at the Security Council.

The South's reprisals include preparations to resume cross-border loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts. The North has threatened to shell the loudspeakers if the broadcasts go ahead.

The North has cut all ties with the South, scrapped pacts aimed at averting accidental flare-ups along their disputed sea border and vowed to attack any intruding ships.

It has threatened to shut down a jointly run industrial park at Kaesong, the last reconciliation project still operating.

The South plans to send a letter to the chairman of the UN Security Council this week, an unidentified official told Yonhap news agency.

Japan's Hatoyama had promised to fully support Seoul when the case is referred to the council, his spokesman told AFP.

Hatoyama had also stated clearly that the resumption of six-party nuclear talks is unthinkable until the North offers a clear apology for attacking the Cheonan, South Korean officials said.


Singapore oil slick reaches Malaysian waters

SINGAPORE, May 30, 2010 (AFP) - An oil slick that closed public beaches on Singapore's eastern coastline has been mostly contained but patches have drifted into Malaysian waters, officials said.

"Efforts to contain and clean up the oil spill have been positive," the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said in its latest press release, issued Sunday evening.

"As of this afternoon, no oil slick was reported in the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) off Changi East or within the anchorages of Singapore's port waters," the MPA added.

However, oil from the slick had been spotted in Malaysian waters, it said, without giving details about the size of the slick.

"Further patches of oil slick were observed today in Malaysian waters and in the TSS to the east of Singapore by passing ships and aircraft," the MPA said.

"MPA has informed our Malaysian counterparts of the observations and have offered our assistance," MPA said.

On Saturday, the MPA said that oil had been sighted off Tanjong Pengelih, in southern Malaysia, and east of Singapore's Changi Beach.

No "significant patches" have been observed off Changi itself or within Singapore's port waters, the MPA said.

The spill came from the Malaysian-registered tanker MT Bunga Kelana 3, which was carrying nearly 62,000 tonnes of crude when it collided off Singapore Tuesday with the MV Waily, a bulk carrier registered in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

About 2,500 tonnes of crude leaked from a gash in the double-hulled tanker but most of it was contained at sea, according to the MPA.

Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) said in its latest update that emergency crews had cleaned up oil at two beaches on the city state's eastern coastline.

"East Coast Beach and Changi Beach have been cleared of oil stains. No oil patches are visible at sea from the two beaches," it said in a press statement issued Sunday evening.

The beaches, closed since Thursday, would remain off-limits to the public, pending checks on the water quality, the NEA said.

The agency added that cleaning efforts at the vulnerable natural reserve at Chek Jawa was also almost complete.

"At Chek Jawa, 98 percent of cleaning is complete. Only small patches of oil film are visible on the water surface," the agency said.


S.Korea, China, Japan take step towards free trade bloc

SEOGWIPO, May 29, 2010 (AFP) - South Korea, China and Japan Saturday called for free-trade talks aimed at eventually creating a single economic bloc to be speeded up, as their leaders met for a three-way summit.

The calls came as South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak hosted the two-day summit, joined by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, to discuss regional security and economic issues.

South Korea has for years been in separate free-trade talks with China and Japan, but with little progress.

"A South Korea-Japan FTA (free trade agreement) would contribute to developing the bilateral relations on a mid- and long-term basis," Lee told Hatoyama during their bilateral summit, according to Lee's spokesman.

Lee proposed to Hatoyama that the two countries should "speed up" their preliminary talks -- in place since 2004 -- before holding official talks on negotiating a free trade pact.

"The signing of an FTA is important for Japan and South Korea to cement their relationship in the next 100 years," Hatoyama said, adding his government would make active efforts towards it.

China's Premier Wen on Saturday also called for talks on a bilateral free-trade agreement with South Korea as both sides wrapped up a three-year joint feasibility study on the project.

"The two countries should start official talks on their free-trade agreement in the future," Wen was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency at a meeting with South Korean business leaders in Seoul.

South Korea and China on Friday signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to hold preliminary talks on sensitive sectors such as agriculture before starting full-fledged negotiations on a free-trade pact.

Last weekend, the trade ministers of South Korea, China and Japan confirmed they would complete a feasibility study within two years on creating a single free trade bloc grouping their three countries.

China has emerged as South Korea's largest trading partner, absorbing some 24 percent of its total exports in 2009.

South Korea has been actively pushing for free-trade agreements worldwide to bolster its export-dominated economy.

It already has such agreements with Chile, Singapore, India, the European Free Trade Association and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

A free-trade pact was signed with the European Union in October 2009 and awaits ratification.

A deal signed with the United States in 2007 is also awaiting ratification.