President Xi Jinping warned that no one can “dictate” China’s economic development path as the Communist Party marked 40 years of its historic “reform and opening up” policy amid a stern challenge from the United States. In a speech at the grandiose Great Hall of the People, Xi vowed to press ahead with economic reforms but made clear that Beijing will not deviate from its one-party system or take orders from any other country. “The great banner of socialism has always been flying high over the Chinese land,” Xi told the party faithful. “The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the most essential feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the greatest advantage of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics,” he said. The commemoration of the reforms enacted under late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping on December 18, 1978, came as China is locked in diplomatic spats and a bruising trade war with the United States. The rivals have agreed to a 90-day truce as they seek to negotiate a solution, with the United States seeking a reduction in its massive trade deficit as well as deeper reforms in China to stop the alleged theft of intellectual property. Without directly referring to the United States, Xi said China “poses no threat” to any country but warned that it would not be pushed around. “No one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done,” Xi said. “We must resolutely reform what should and can be changed, we must resolutely not reform what shouldn’t and can’t be changed.” While Xi promised more reforms, he did not offer any specifics. The United States and Europe have long complained of lingering obstacles to fully entering China’s massive market while Chinese companies enjoy the benefits of open Western economies abroad. The reforms pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and turned China into the world’s second biggest economy. But it is currently facing a debt mountain and a slowing economy, which grew by 6.9% last year and is expected by the government to slow to around 6.5 percent this year. Deng’s reforms broke with the chaotic policies of his predecessor, Chairman Mao Zedong. Yesterday’s ceremony included the awarding of medals to more than 100 individuals whom the party recognised as key contributors to the country’s development, from people involved in rural reform and poverty alleviation to China’s richest man, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, and retired NBA legend Yao Ming. China now boasts the most dollar billionaires in the world with 620, according to Shanghai-based magazine publisher Hurun Report. But the economic transformation has not brought changes to the Communist Party-controlled political system, with authorities harshly cracking down on the Tiananmen protests in 1989 and activists complaining of a deterioration of human rights in recent years. “Reform and opening up let the Communist Party maintain its dictatorship and let it keep its rule from collapsing after the Cold War and survive,” Beijing-based political analyst Wu Qiang told AFP. “I think China now is state capitalism under a one-party dictatorship, or party-run capitalism,” he said. Wu said the trade war could be a chance for China to enact more changes.
Japan will accelerate spending on advanced stealth fighters, long-range missiles and other equipment over the next five years to support US forces facing China’s military in the Western Pacific, two new government defence papers said. The plans are the clearest indication yet of Japan’s ambition to become a regional power as a military build-up by China and a resurgent Russia puts pressure on its US ally. “The United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, but national rivalries are surfacing and we recognise the importance of the strategic competition with both China and Russia as they challenge the regional order,” said a 10-year defence programme outline approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government yesterday. The United States, followed by China, North Korea and Russia, are the countries that most influenced Japan’s latest military thinking, the paper said. China, the world’s second biggest economy, is deploying more ships and aircraft to patrol waters near Japan, while North Korea has yet to fulfil a pledge to dismantle its nuclear and missile programmes. Russia, which continues to probe Japanese air defences, said on Monday it had built new barracks for troops on a northern island it captured from Japan at the end of World War II. Japan plans to buy 45 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealth fighters, worth about $4bn, in addition to the 42 jets already on order, according to a separate five-year procurement plan approved yesterday. The new planes will include 18 short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) B variants of the F-35 that planners want to deploy on Japanese islands along the edge of the East China Sea. The islands are part of a chain stretching past Taiwan and down to the Philippines that has marked the limit of Chinese military dominance east of the disputed South China Sea. “Japan’s decision to acquire more F-35s is a testament to the aircraft’s transformational capability and its increasing role in promoting regional stability and enhancing the US-Japan security alliance,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement. The navy’s two large helicopter carriers, the Izumo and Kaga, will be modified for F-35B operations, the paper said. The 248-m (814 ft) long Izumo-class ships are as big as any of Japan’s aircraft carriers in World War II. They will need reinforced decks to withstand the heat blast from F-35 engines and could be fitted with ramps to aid short take-offs, two defence ministry officials told Reuters. The new F-35 order may also help Japan avert a trade war with the United States. US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose tariffs on Japanese car imports, thanked Abe for buying the F-35s when the two met at a summit in Argentina this month. Other US-made equipment on Japan’s shopping list includes two land-based Aegis Ashore air defence radars to defend against North Korean missiles, four Boeing Co KC-46 Pegasus refuelling planes to extend the range of Japanese aircraft, and nine Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye early-warning planes. Japan plans to spend 25.5tn yen ($224.7bn) on military equipment over the next five years, 6.4% higher than the previous five-year plan. Cost-cutting will free up another 2tn yen for purchases, the procurement paper said. Japan only spends about 1% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence, but the size of its economy means it already has one of the world’s largest militaries. “The budget is increasing and there has been an acceleration to deploy capability as soon as possible,” Robert Morrissey, head of Raytheon Co’s unit in Japan, said this month. Wary of North Korean promises to abandon ballistic missile development, Japan’s military is buying longer-range Raytheon SM-3 interceptor missiles to strike enemy warheads in space. The defence papers assessed non-traditional military threats as well. A new joint-forces cyber unit will bolster Japan’s defences against cyber attacks. More electronic warfare capabilities are planned. Japan’s air force will also get its first space unit to help keep tabs on potential adversaries high above the Earth’s atmosphere.
Bangladesh’s main opposition group promised yesterday to remove curbs on free speech and the media and to rein in the police if it unseats Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from her decade-long rule in this month’s national election. Presenting its manifesto in Dhaka, the Jaitya Oikya Front, or National Unity Front alliance, also pledged to bring in a series of checks and balances on central government power. It would create an upper house of parliament, introduce a rule that would bar a prime minister from running for office for more than two consecutive terms, and give the central bank more autonomy. The alliance also promised to raise the minimum wage of garment workers and freeze gas and electricity prices for the first year that it is in power. Hasina, who is Bangladesh’s longest-ruling leader and is seeking a third straight term in the election scheduled for December 30, has been accused by the opposition and human rights groups of becoming increasingly authoritarian. While she is credited for improving the economy and has been lauded internationally for providing refuge to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar, she has also cracked down on dissent, stifled the opposition and introduced a tough new media law. With less than two weeks to go before the polls, the opposition alliance has complained of harassment. “It is doubtful that the election will be free and fair,” said Kamal Hossain, leader of the alliance that includes the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). “In every district our candidates are being arrested...in the last 50 years of my political life, I have never seen such a situation.” Clashes have broken out in several parts of Bangladesh since campaigning officially began last week, and at least six BNP candidates have been injured while they were out seeking votes. The party has called for the army to take over to restore order. The BNP alleges scores of its workers have been detained by police on fictitious charges, or even killed, under Hasina’s rule, especially over the past few months, and say that the Election Commission has turned a blind eye. Asaduzzaman Khan, minister for home affairs and also a senior leader of Hasina’s ruling Awami League, denied the allegations. “No workers of BNP have been detained or arrested without an arrest warrant or specific charges, the question of killing or murder does not arise at all,” Khan told Reuters. The alliance said it would form an independent commission to investigate suspected plitically motivated cases under Hasina’s rule and punish police involved in them. It also promised to stop disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Khan also called those allegations baseless The BNP has close links to the Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic party, many of whose members have been convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death or life imprisonment under Hasina’s rule. Bangladesh’s Election Commission scrapped Jamaat’s registration following a Supreme Court judgment. Even so, at least 22 members of the party are contesting in the upcoming polls under the BNP banner, and three as independent candidates. Hossain has said the alliance has no links to the Jamaat, but Hasina has accused the alliance for fielding “war criminals”. The media policy perhaps goes further than most in rolling back Hasina’s recent moves. There will be no direct or indirect control on mass media,@ the manifesto said.
Australia’s conservative prime minister yesterday stood by his decision to recognise west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite criticism from neighbouring Muslim countries. Canberra became one of a handful of governments to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and recognise the contested city as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Scott Morrison had announced Saturday. But a contentious embassy shift from Tel Aviv — a proposal made during a crucial Sydney by-election that critics said was timed to attract Jewish voters — will not occur until a peace settlement is achieved. Australia’s Muslim-majority neighbour Malaysia said yesterday it “strongly opposes” the decision to recognise west Jerusalem. The announcement was “premature and a humiliation to the Palestinians and their struggle for the right to self-determination,” the government said in a statement advocating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Australia’s immediate neighbour Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, was angered by the embassy move proposal in the run-up to the by-election, and said Saturday it “notes” the decision. Citing Jakarta’s response, Morrison said yesterday that the international reaction had been “measured” and that his decision would progress a two-state solution. “I think the responses that we have seen from countries so far has been measured,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “Australia would continue to respect a two-state outcome that remained our goal as strongly as ever.” Israel’s embassy in Canberra said the decision was a “step in the right direction”. Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Most foreign nations avoided moving embassies there to prevent inflaming peace talks on the city’s final status – until Trump unilaterally moved the US embassy earlier this year. Morrison’s embattled coalition slipped into a minority government after losing the Sydney by-election in October, which followed the Liberal party’s ousting of the local member and then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Australia now recognises west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday, but a contentious embassy shift from Tel Aviv will not occur until a peace settlement is achieved. Canberra became one of just a few governments around the world to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and recognise the contested city as Israel’s capital, but Morrison also committed to recognising a future state of Palestine with east Jerusalem as its capital. “Australia now recognises west Jerusalem - being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government - is the capital of Israel,” Morrison said in a speech in Sydney. Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Most foreign nations avoided moving embassies there to prevent inflaming peace talks on the city’s final status - until Trump unilaterally moved the US embassy there earlier this year. “We look forward to moving our embassy to west Jerusalem when practical, in support of and after final status of determination,” Morrison said, adding that work on a new site for the embassy was under way. In the interim, the prime minister said, Australia would establish a defence and trade office in the west of the holy city. “Furthermore, recognising our commitment to a two-state solution, the Australian government is also resolved to acknowledge the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in east Jerusalem,” he added. Morrison first floated the shift in foreign policy in October, the move angered Australia’s immediate neighbour Indonesia - the world’s most populous Muslim nation - and put a halt on years-long negotiations on a bilateral trade deal. The country’s foreign ministry responded yesterday by saying it “notes” the decision. Canberra on Friday told its citizens travelling to Indonesia to “exercise a high degree of caution”, warning of protests in the capital Jakarta and popular holiday hotspots, including Bali. Morrison pointed to Australia’s military history in the region, and the country’s interest in a “rules-based” order in the Middle East, to support the shift in foreign policy. The prime minister vowed Australia would no longer abstain from UN resolutions he said “attacked” Israel, but would instead oppose them, including the “Jerusalem” resolution, which asks nations not to locate diplomatic missions to the holy city. “The UN General Assembly is now the place where Israel is bullied and where anti-Semitism is cloaked in language about human rights,” Morrison said. Morrison first announced he was “open-minded” to an embassy shift to Jerusalem ahead of a crucial October by-election in a Sydney constituency with a sizeable Jewish population. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the time hailed the initiative, but Morrison faced mounting backlash at home, forced to play down the foreign policy manoeuvre as part of an election campaign. Morrison’s Liberal party candidate was a former Australian ambassador to Israel, who went on to lose the seat, delivering the prime minister a minority government. Commentators said yesterday that the embattled PM - who faces the prospect of an election drubbing next year - was “saving face”, sticking to the status quo by holding back an embassy move, and easing tension with his distinction between east and west Jerusalem. “Essentially not much has happened,” Rodger Shanahan from Sydney-based think tank the Lowy Institute said of Morrison’s announcement. “It is a combination of him being caught out by making an injudicious remark at a by-election, and then having to walk back from it” he said. The opposition Labour party slammed Morrison for putting “self-interest ahead of the national interest”. “Recognising West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while continuing to locate Australia’s embassy in Tel Aviv, is nothing more than a face-saving exercise,” shadow minister for foreign affairs Penny Wong said in a statement. “This is a decision which is all risk and no gain,” she said, adding it puts Australia “out of step” with the international community.
Tens of thousands of Malay Muslims rallied in Kuala Lumpur yesterday to celebrate the Malaysian government’s refusal to ratify a UN convention against racial discrimination. After weeks of pressure by pro-Malay groups, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s multi-ethnic government decided last month that it would not ratify the convention, without giving a reason why it was going back on an earlier commitment to sign. Groups representing Malays, who account for around 60% of Malaysia’s multi-ethnic population, raised fears that signing the UN pledge could have undermined Malay privileges and threatened Islam’s status as Malaysia’s official religion. Badly beaten in an election earlier this year, Malay opposition parties seized on the issue, along with activists, to organise the rally, as race is a sensitive matter for the Southeast Asian nation of 32mn people. Seeking to rebuild support, Najib Razak, Malaysia’s scandal-plagued former prime minister, and Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who replaced him as head of the former ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and the leader of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, PAS, all attended the rally. Their supporters, wearing white, converged on the capital’s Merdeka Square following afternoon prayers. Some chanted “God is Great” and slogans against the UN convention, while holding up placards calling for the defence of Malay rights and dignity. Citing police estimates, media put the size of the rally at around 50,000 people. “We are here to defend our rights as Malays,” said Faridah Harun, a 59-year-old mother of seven, who travelled down from the northern state of Perak to join the rally with her husband. “We have ruled this country very well for a very long time, but now there are people who want to take over and do things like shut down MARA,” she said, referring to a trust fund for Malays and indigenous people. Affirmative action policies introduced after deadly race riots in the late 1960s gave Malays advantages including university quotas, housing discounts, government guaranteed savings plans, and equity ownership quotas. Whereas Mahathir’s coalition enjoyed overwhelming support among voters from the minority ethnic Chinese and Indian communities, who together account for 30% of the population, it remains locked in a battle to win over Malays who have remained loyal to UMNO and PAS.
Thousands of people marched in Australian cities Saturday to protest against Indian mining giant Adani's controversial plan to construct a new coal mine in central Queensland. In the face of huge public protests and legal action from environmentalists, Adani has already cut its original plan of a massive 16.5-billion-dollar (11.9-billion-US-dollar) mega open cut mine extracting 60 million tones a year. It will instead go ahead with a self-funded 2-billion-dollar mine extracting 10 to 15 million tones of coal a year from the Carmichael region. But that failed to satisfy anti-coal and climate change protesters who marched in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns carrying signs with slogans including ‘There is no Planet B’ and ‘The climate is changing, why aren't we?’ Around 5,000 protesters in Melbourne and hundreds in Brisbane called on the state and federal governments to stop Adani's coal mine altogether. So far the Australian and Queensland governments have welcomed the mine as it will provide many jobs and royalties as the coal is shipped to India. Melbourne protest organiser Alex Fuller said people were motivated to join the rally after seeing the recent school climate change strikes. ‘People were feeling really inspired that we could create change but they were also feeling really frustrated,’ she told the Australian Associated Press news agency. Adani Mining, which was founded by Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, said in a statement to AAP that the company recognized there are varied opinions about the Carmichael mine project and encouraged everyone to voice them safely and respectfully.
Indonesian soldiers hunted yesterday for rebels suspected of killing as many as two dozen construction workers in restive Papua province, as an eyewitness account supplied by the military described a grisly mass execution. The survivor’s account detailed the killing of at least 19 people, which if confirmed would mark the deadliest bout of violence in years to hit a region wracked by a low-level independence insurgency. A Facebook account purportedly run by the National Liberation Army of West Papua (TPNPB) said the armed group had killed 24 workers on the orders of regional commander Ekianus Kogoya. Authorities have yet to confirm how many were killed in the weekend attack, but the military said 15 bodies that have been recovered would be flown by helicopter to the town of Timika today. Yesterday, some 150 military personnel were focusing their operation at Nduga, a remote mountainous region where a state-owned contractor has been building bridges and roads as part of efforts to boost infrastructure. Many Papuans view Indonesia as a colonial occupier and its building work as a way to exert more control over an impoverished region that shares a border with Papua New Guinea, an independent nation. Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he backed the hunt for those behind what he described as the “alleged assault”. “I have ordered the chiefs of the military and national police to chase and arrest all the perpetrators of these barbaric and inhumane acts,” he told reporters in Jakarta. Police and military teams sent to the area on Monday came under rebel gunfire with one soldier killed and another wounded in the firefight, authorities have said. Four workers -- including three suffering gunshot wounds -- were among a dozen civilians who have been evacuated from the area so far. Yesterday, the military supplied an account from one survivor identified by his initials “JA” who claimed about 50 rebels entered the workers’ camp on Saturday and led them away with their hands tied behind their backs. The following day, the rebels shot dead a group of workers, while some tried to escape, the account said. The attackers allegedly recaptured six workers and slit their throats, according to the uninjured witness, who said at least 19 employees had been killed in all. Previous local media reports pegged the number of dead between 24 and 31. AFP has confirmed with relatives that the eyewitness worked for the contractor in the area where the killings allegedly took place, but his account of a massacre could not be independently verified. Indonesia routinely blames separatists for violence in Papua and foreign media need permission to report there so obtaining reliable information is difficult. The military has long been accused of rights abuses against Papua’s ethnic Melanesian population including extrajudicial killings of activists and peaceful protesters. This weekend, about 500 activists – including an Australian – were arrested in a nationwide police crackdown that coincided with rallies on December 1, a date many Papuans consider their anniversary of independence from Dutch colonialists. Papua declared itself an independent nation on that date in 1961, but neighbouring Indonesia took control of the resource-rich region two years later on the condition it hold an independence referendum. It officially annexed Papua in 1969 with a UN-backed vote, widely seen as a sham. Papua experienced several spasms of violence this summer including the killing of three local people, allegedly by rebels. While construction workers have been targeted in the past, much of the violence has involved skirmishes between rebels and Indonesian security forces. The group that took responsibility for the most recent killings is among the most militant factions in the Papua independence movement, and its actions could inspire copycat attacks, said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. The targeting of the military or government has generated a huge military response in the past.
An Australian man whose life was laid bare in a popular crime mystery podcast about the disappearance of his wife nearly 40 years ago was arrested on Wednesday. Ex-first grade rugby league player Chris Dawson, 70, is expected to be charged with the murder of his former wife Lynette, who went missing in Sydney's northern beaches in 1982, authorities said. The body of the mother of two has never been recovered. Dawson denies killing his wife, and says she left home at the time of her disappearance to get some time to herself. The cold case is the subject of popular podcast "The Teacher's Pet", which details a troubled marriage leading up to the disappearance and examines the shortcomings of the police response. The podcast, by journalists from The Australian newspaper, has been heard by some 27 million people worldwide, according to the paper. An inquest in 2003 found that Chris Dawson, a former high school teacher, had started an affair with a 16-year-old student who moved in with him within days of his wife's disappearance. Police have been criticised for not investigating the disappearance properly. New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller, who recently apologised for police failings on the case in the 1980s, said detectives had revisited the disappearance three years ago and a "fresh brief" of evidence had led to the arrest. "That information enabled New South Wales Police to get an arrest warrant for a 70-year-old man currently living in Queensland," Fuller told reporters Wednesday. Fuller acknowledged that media reports had contributed to police obtaining additional statements relating to the case. "What is important to me was justice for Lynette Dawson and her family, and today is an important step forward in that," he added. Dawson was due to be extradited from Queensland state to New South Wales, where police said he would be charged with homicide.
Residents of two rural villages in fire-struck north-eastern Australia were advised to evacuate yesterday as temperatures soared to 40C and winds reached 50km per hour on the seventh day of bushfires in the region. Around 115 bushfires are raging in an area the size of Belgium in central and northern Queensland, with several farm buildings burnt down. Queensland Fire and Emergency Services advised residents to evacuate the villages of Winfield and Lowmead, 420km north of the state capital Brisbane, as bushfires were about to cut the roads. More than 160 firefighting crews are battling the blazes which started a week ago in remote areas as temperatures hit 10 degrees above normal after a long drought, turning the tropical north of Australia into a tinderbox. A 21-year-old man was killed by a falling tree as he tried to create a firebreak on Saturday. Bushfires have also broken out on North Stradbroke Island, a popular holiday sport for people in Brisbane just 94km away.
Modern city-state Singapore is a predictable place: it’s hot and humid every day, unabashedly pro-business, immaculately clean — no chewing gum anywhere — and the government is usually run by a Lee. Last month, the wheels of change were set in motion through an opaque reorganisation within the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), a move that put in place the likely successor once Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong steps aside. Prime Minister Lee, the son of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, is nearly 67 and has said he will step down by the time he is 70. Having held power since 2004, he is widely expected to go after an election that must take place by early 2021, and the end of the Lee era will pitch Singapore into a rare state of flux at a sensitive time. Singapore’s economic model is under threat, there is unease over inequality in the land of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, and social media has given critics of the government – both genuine and fake – a platform that they’ve never had before. Since its separation from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore has become a rich, tiny rock of stability, surrounded by large, mostly Muslim, and politically less predictable neighbours. Living on an island of 5.6mn people, the only country in Southeast Asia where ethnic Chinese are in majority, Singaporeans are very conscious of the value of stability and security. That awareness, along with an appreciation of their relative prosperity, helps explain an ingrained reluctance to rock the boat. The PAP has won every election since Singapore’s independence over half a century ago and there is no sign that the party’s position is in jeopardy. But its leaders are not taking anything for granted, especially after a political earthquake in next-door Malaysia, where a party that had led every post-colonial government suffered a humiliating election defeat in May. “The ruling party, the PAP, does not have a monopoly of power, does not have the right to rule Singapore indefinitely,” Prime Minister Lee said days after the Malaysian vote. Lee is only Singapore’s third prime minister after his father and Goh Chok Tong, who had to contend with speculation he was a seat-warmer for the younger Lee — who served as deputy prime minister during his 14 years in charge. Lee, 66, has already said he does not think any of his four children will enter politics. It is unclear whether Lee will withdraw from politics completely or retain influence as a senior statesman, as both Goh and his father had done. Succession in Singapore had previously been decided over cake and coffee, years in advance, but this time it was left up to a group of 16 ministers, dubbed the fourth generation, or 4G, to pick among themselves — a process that has been compared to how cardinals pick the pope. The process concluded last month, when finance minister Heng Swee Keat, 57, was given a key position within the party’s top decision making body and declared “first among equals”. Asked if Heng would take over as PAP leader once Lee steps aside, a party spokesman directed Reuters to local media reports which described him as the frontrunner or leader of the younger 4G ministers. He did not provide further comment. Untested leadership A jovial, bespectacled former central banker, Heng is seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’ — especially given one of Singapore’s most immediate challenges is keeping its open economy on an even keel in the face of rising protectionism and trade disputes between global powers. Commentators in Singapore’s largely pro-government mainstream media noted that the PAP went to great lengths to stress its unity behind Heng, who in 2016 had suffered a stroke and collapsed during a cabinet meeting. “Leadership transitions in political parties are generally never smooth,” Straits Times news editor Zakir Hussain said in an article, pointing to recent political ructions in Australia, Britain and Germany. “There is no reason to expect that the PAP — which has stayed cohesive for most of the 59 years it has been in power — might not one day face such divisions.” Former PAP lawmaker Inderjit Singh said the next election will be a “referendum” on the untested new leadership team. “None of the 4G leaders have delivered ground breaking policy initiatives ...So it is important for the 4G leaders to show ... their own initiative of delivering policies that satisfy Singaporeans and they have to do it fast,” said Singh. “If they fail, trust (in the PAP) will be eroded, and this could change the political landscape of Singapore.” Recently popularised by Hollywood film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, Singapore has some of the highest paid politicians in the world, partly to attract top drawer candidates to public service and partly to remove the temptations of corruption. The prime minister, for example, earns S$2.2mn ($1.6mn) a year. Singapore’s rapid growth from colonial backwater to low-tax, financial hub has lifted all boats, and its poor are still far better off than they would be in neighbouring countries. But there are rising concerns over inequality, particularly as its society is ageing rapidly. Critical voices Social media has given more space for criticism and dissent, and the PAP’s political transition comes as Singapore steps up its battle against so-called “fake news”. In recent weeks, authorities have blocked access to a foreign-based news site, lambasted social media firm Facebook for failing to take down a post, and seized equipment from local blog The Online Citizen (TOC) in a defamation investigation. These incidents have strengthened calls from some lawmakers for legislation to tackle what they term ‘deliberate online falsehoods’. “The reaction in recent times have been excessive,” TOC’s editor Terry Xu told Reuters. “Typically, the Singapore government would just issue a general libel or rebuttal.” Following the TOC incident, Human Rights Watch said in a statement it was concerned “rights abusing attacks against freedom of expression will get worse as the ruling PAP contemplates a possible election in 2019”. Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Singapore below Russia and Myanmar for press freedoms, also raised concerns about the TOC incident and the potential for a tougher government stance on the media as elections near. A spokeswoman for Singapore’s communications ministry said in an e-mailed statement the TOC investigation “is in no way related to elections”, adding: “Robust discussions, including criticism of the government, take place every day on various platforms. But we will not allow the integrity of our public institutions to be impugned under the cover of free speech.” Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies, one of the experts cited in a recent parliamentary report on fake news that recommended more legislation, said the upcoming election is “an important factor” for lawmakers. Singapore’s vulnerabilities, given its diverse society, the risk of terror threats, and its position as a financial hub were other strong reasons for bringing in such laws, she said. The government’s latest run-ins with media “strengthen the government’s case”, Koh said, but she added that pursuit of stronger laws may also fuel cynicism that it was driven by “partisan interests.”
US President Donald Trump said he hoped to organise a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in early 2019, perhaps as soon as January or February. Trump told reporters travelling home to Washington with him aboard Air Force One from Argentina that “three sites” were in consideration for the meeting, a follow-up to their historic summit in Singapore in June. “I think we’re going to do one fairly (soon) – you know, into January, February, I think,” said Trump, who had been in Buenos Aires for the Group of 20 summit. “We’re getting along very well. We have a good relationship.” In the Argentine capital, Trump held separate bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday that primarily focused on trade, but the US leader said Xi he had agreed to work with him “100 percent” on North Korea. When asked Saturday if he would ever host the North Korean leader in the United States, Trump replied: “At some point, yeah.” In June, Trump and Kim opened up a face-to-face dialogue after months of trading military threats and pointed barbs. The two leaders signed a vaguely worded document on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but progress has since stalled as Washington and Pyongyang spar over the meaning of the document. North Korea has taken few concrete steps to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to meet with a top North Korean official in early November, but the meeting was abruptly put off, with Pyongyang insisting that Washington ease sanctions. On Friday, Trump discussed the situation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the G20 summit. The pair “reaffirmed their commitment to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearisation” of North Korea, Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. They agreed on the need for “maintaining vigorous enforcement of existing sanctions to ensure the DPRK understands that denuclearisation is the only path,” Sanders said, using the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Moon’s office welcomed Trump’s comments about a second summit with Kim. “We hope a concrete agenda and logistics will be determined soon,” Yonhap quoted presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom as saying. But differences remain between Washington and Seoul on how to proceed with Kim, as the dovish Moon favours more robust engagement with the North. North and South Korea have begun to remove landmines and destroy military bunkers at parts of their common border as part of efforts to improve long-strained relations. They have also begun work to reconnect a train line and repair another rail link across the border.
Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is facing international criticism over her country’s crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, called yesterday for “a culture of peace” to end conflict between communities. The Nobel Peace prize winner did not mention the Rohingya crisis - which has led the United Nations to call for a genocide investigation - in her keynote address to an international meeting. “At the basis of conflict is ill-will which seeks to hurt and to destroy and thus to open the way to conflict, which in turn spews out an ever-renewing cycle of hate and fear, snuffing out the light of peace,” Suu Kyi said. Suu Kyi called for co-operation between nations to seek peace and mutual prosperity. “Only by promoting a culture of peace in this world of interdependence will it be possible to create harmony between diverse countries and societies,” she said. Suu Kyi, whose position of state counsellor in Myanmar is considered the equivalent of a prime minister, has faced a wave of condemnation since Myanmar launched its military crackdown on the Rohingya in August 2017. More than 700,000 have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state to camps in neighbouring Bangladesh. Many told horrific stories of widespread killings, rapes and villages razed to the ground. Myanmar’s military insists it only targeted Rohingya militants and Suu Kyi has deflected all criticism. Other top officials at the meeting, which was accompanied by boosted security in the Nepali capital to head off protests, did not mention the conflict which has overshadowed many of Suu Kyi’s international appearances. Her speech at the Kathmandu meeting, backed by the Universal Peace Foundation, came a day after Paris announced will it will strip her of her honorary freedom of the French capital over her failure to speak out against the Rohingya crackdown. The British cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Oxford have taken similar action against Suu Kyi over her refusal to condemn the military violence. A UN rights team found evidence of widespread murder, rape, torture and arson, and called for top generals to be prosecuted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. About 300 Rohingya live in Nepal and one of the refugee community based in Kathmandu, who requested anonymity, called for Nepal to raise their issue with Suu Kyi. “We are suffering. I think if she wants to help us, she can,” he said.
A deep 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck in eastern Indonesia yesterday night, US seismologists said, but no tsunami warning was issued. The quake hit in the sea in southwest Indonesia, about 130km (80 miles northeast of the city Tiakur at 10:27pm (0127 GMT), at a depth of 140km, according to the US Geological Survey. The national disaster agency said the quake was felt weakly in Tiakur for about three to five seconds. “There are no damages and casualties,” national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said. The area is often hit by quakes, but the epicentre is deep, Nugroho added. The quake was also felt in Dili, the capital city of neighbouring country Timor-Leste which lies about 370km from the epicentre. “People immediately started running while screaming ‘Quake!’ and informing one another by hitting the electricity pole as a quake warning sign,” Dili resident Dion Chatulessy said. Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide. An earthquake struck the country’s western Aceh province in December 2016, killing more than 100 people, injuring many more and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Last September, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island killed more than 2,200 with a thousand more declared missing.
North Korea’s foreign minister kicked off an official visit to Communist Vietnam yesterday, a trip analysts say carries the potential for the hermit nation to learn from Hanoi’s post-war “doi moi” economic transformation. Vietnam’s economy has flourished since market reforms in the 1990s opened its doors to foreign investment and free trade deals, with GDP growth hitting five percent or higher for the past decade. It has done so while maintaining a single-party Communist state with a tight grip on power and little tolerance for dissent. It a model that experts say could appeal to Pyongyang – with an economy long crippled by wide-ranging sanctions and years of self-imposed isolation. While the full plan for Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s three-day visit to Vietnam has not been made public, a diplomatic source in Hanoi told AFP he is due to visit a technology park near the city and meet with agriculture experts. He will also meet Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, according to his official schedule. North Korea’s regime wants “to expand their economic relations with other countries and not be completely dependent on China,” Kevin Gray, professor of international relations at the University of Sussex told AFP. “There are also lessons there that North Korea could potentially learn” from Vietnam’s opening up, he added. Ri’s Hanoi trip also coincides with a current diplomatic thaw following a series of meetings with Seoul and Washington – including a landmark summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in June. “North Korea is using this period of not testing (its nuclear weapons) to recover its external relations to appear as a respectable member of the international community,” said Carl Thayer, emeritus politics professor at the University of New South Wales in Canberra. Pyongyang “wants to learn from Vietnam’s economic transformation”, he said, with the caveat that Hanoi’s embrace of free trade would be “a bridge too far”. Economic prosperity is a carrot often dangled by Washington in front of the North in exchange for denuclearisation. On a July visit to Vietnam US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remarked on the “once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership” between former war foes Hanoi and Washington. “Your country can replicate this path. It’s yours if you’ll seize the moment. The miracle could be yours; it can be your miracle in North Korea as well,” he said in comments aimed at Kim Jong-un. Hanoi’s exports to Pyongyang reached $7.3mn last year, mainly of food products, according to official data.
Thousands of Australian students skipped school yesterday to join nationwide protests demanding government action on climate change. The demonstrations were held as more than a hundred bushfires blazed in scorching temperatures in the northeast and a day after Indian mining firm Adani vowed to go ahead with a massive and controversial coal mine. Primary and secondary students rallied in state capitals and rural areas across the country, in defiance of Prime Minister Scott Morrison who earlier said kids should stay in the classroom. “Our prime minister thinks we should be in school right now and maybe you should be,” 13-year-old student Siniva Esera told a crowd of more than a thousand in Sydney. “But how can we sit by and not do anything to protect the future of this planet,” she added, to a rapturous applause. Morrison told parliament earlier in the week that the government was committed to tackling climate change, “but I’ll tell you what we are also committed to: kids should go to school.” Students creatively rebuked the prime minister, who goes by the nickname ScoMo, with humorous banners saying, “I hate ScoMo more than I hate school”. They also carried placards calling for the government to block the Adani mine project, a day after the Indian mining firm had announced it would go ahead with a scaled-back version of the coal mine in northern Queensland. “If we don’t stop temperatures going over two degrees we won’t have the Great barrier reef, Antarctica will melt and there will be no such thing as polar bears,” 11-year-old Lucie Atkin-Bolton told the crowd. “My life will be so much more complicated than my parents’ life, because of one simple thing: climate change.” The protests capped off a week of brutal weather in Australia. More than a hundred fires continued to blaze yesterday across Queensland state amid an unprecedented scorching heatwave. The crisis forced hundreds to flee their homes Wednesday at its peak. On the same day, in the neighbouring state of New South Wales, Sydney was hit by severe thunderstorms and heavy rainfall forcing the cancellation of flights, closure of rail lines and leaving motorists stranded on flooded roads. Scientists this week also launched the largest-ever attempt to regenerate the endangered Great Barrier Reef, where large swathes of coral on the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) reef have been killed by rising sea temperatures linked to climate change.
Bumpy runways, hair-raising safety lapses, remote airstrips with no navigation systems and a dire shortage of experienced captains and maintenance crews. Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, but it has come under fresh scrutiny since a fatal Lion Air crash last month as the sector struggles to keep up with its breakneck expansion, putting safety at risk, analysts warn. “The vast increase in demand and operations has seen more regular accidents or events taking place that are preventable,” said Stephen Wright, an aviation expert at the University of Leeds. On Wednesday, investigators issued a preliminary report that said the doomed Lion Air jet had technical problems that the airline failed to fix before its final flight. All 189 people on board were killed as the nearly new Boeing 737 slammed into the sea shortly after takeoff. While officials did not lay blame or pinpoint a definitive cause of the October 29 accident, they said the budget carrier must take steps “to improve (its) safety culture”. Despite a spotty safety record and an avalanche of complaints over shoddy service, the carrier’s parent Lion Air Group — which also operates five other airlines — has captured half the domestic market in less than 20 years of operation. The group now has Southeast Asia’s biggest fleet — more than 300 planes — with growth driven by a model built on cheap prices and flights to almost every corner of the vast Indonesian archipelago. Indonesia’s safety record has improved, analysts say, since its airlines including national carrier Garuda were banned for years from US and European airspace for safety violations. Still, the country has recorded 40 fatal aviation accidents over the past 15 years. The US and EU flight bans have been lifted in recent years, but the industry is still wrestling with outdated infrastructure, accusations of cutting corners and heavy restrictions on hiring pilots and technicians from overseas to plug staff gaps. “If you want to grow quickly, you have to hire foreigners but here we have regulations which prevent us from easily hiring them,” said Jakarta-based aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman. Lion Air — which captured headlines in 2011 with a then-record $22-bn order for Boeing planes — sits at the centre of a $4-bn-plus sector with double-digit annual growth and 97mn domestic travellers last year alone. The carrier’s chief, Edward Sirait, acknowledged that people may see Lion as a “tacky company” that hires “grumpy” service staff straight out of high school. But he disputed any suggestion that pilots — including those that fly on international routes — are not properly trained. “They’d never be able to fly abroad if they weren’t qualified,” he told AFP. Indonesia’s transport ministry said it is pushing Lion and other airlines for safety and service improvements. Some Indonesian lawmakers, however, want the budget carrier’s licence to be revoked, a call that may be bolstered by Wednesday’s report. Such punishment is unlikely given the size of the Lion Air Group, a major employer that has ballooned as Indonesia’s growing economy and rising incomes have given more of its 260mn people access to air travel. Its co-founder Rusdi Kirana — who described his own airline as the “worst in the world” in a 2015 interview — is a close confidante of President Joko Widodo, who appointed him to the key post of Indonesia’s ambassador to neighbouring Malaysia. And the firm’s growth strategy is crucial to Widodo’s infrastructure push, which includes plans for dozens of new airports including a $10-bn hub in the capital, as he seeks re-election next year. Lion Air is also the only carrier to service many remote parts of a 17,000-island country, where some of the more than 200 airports don’t even have proper navigation equipment. That means pilots have been forced to use their sight alone while landing over perilous terrain and on less-than-smooth runways. “There are still many runways with uneven surfaces so when the plane lands its feels like you’re driving on a potholed road,” said Lion Air captain Yusni Maryan. As a frequent flyer, Indonesian civil servant Amalia Pissano has her share of horror stories, from the Lion Air captain who delayed a flight for two hours so he could have a meal to a terrifying experience aboard a Sriwijaya Air flight on the same route as the crashed Lion jet. The plane suddenly began shaking violently before it plunged toward the ground, sparking chaos inside the cabin until pilots regained control and landed safely, she said. The crew never offered an explanation, Pissano said. “It was really scary because the plane was rocking and the crew seemed to have no clue what was happening.”
Scientists have launched the largest-ever attempt to regenerate coral on the endangered Great Barrier Reef by harvesting millions of the creatures’ eggs and sperm during their annual spawning. The researchers said yesterday they plan to grow coral larvae from the harvested eggs and return these to areas of the reef which have been badly damaged by climate-related coral bleaching. “This is the first time that the entire process of large scale larval rearing and settlement will be undertaken directly on reefs on the Great Barrier Reef,” said Peter Harrison of Southern Cross University, one of the project leaders. “Our team will be restoring hundreds of square meters with the goal of getting to square kilometres in the future, a scale not attempted previously,” he said in a statement. The “Larval Restoration Project” launch was timed to coincide with the annual coral spawn on the reef, which began earlier this week and will last only about 48 to 72 hours. Coral along large swathes of the 2,300-km reef have been killed by rising sea temperatures linked to climate change, leaving behind skeletal remains in a process known as coral bleaching. The northern reaches of the reef suffered an unprecedented two successive years of severe bleaching in 2016 and 2017, raising fears it may have suffered irreparable damage. Harrison and his colleagues are hopeful their reseeding project can help reverse the trend, but he cautioned the effort will not be enough on its own to save the reef. “Climate action is the only way to ensure coral reefs can survive into the future,” he said. “Our approach to reef restoration aims to buy time for coral populations to survive and evolve until emissions are capped and our climate stabilises.” The scientists hope that coral which have survived bleaching have a greater tolerance to rising temperatures so that a breeding population produced from this year’s spawn will grow into coral better able to survive future bleaching events. The researchers, who also include experts from James Cook University and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), said a novelty of their reseeding project was to grow coral larvae together with microscopic algae. The two live in symbiosis on the reef. “So we are aiming to fast-track this process to see if the survival and early growth of juvenile corals can be boosted by rapid uptake of the algae,” explained David Suggett of UTS.
South Korea yesterday successfully conducted a rocket engine test launch, officials said, paving the way for the development of its own space launch vehicle. Video footage showed the single-stage rocket, propelled by a liquid fuel engine, lift off from the Naro Space Center on the southern coast and surge into the sky, trailing yellow and blue flames. “The test vehicle was successfully launched,” Vice Science Minister Lee Jin-gyu told journalists, adding collected flight data showed the engine was functioning normally. The rocket, weighing 52 tonnes and measuring 25.8m long, was fitted with a single engine with 75-tonne thrust, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) said. The engine, designed and developed as part of a $1.8bn project, will be used to propel the country’s first indigenous three-stage launch vehicle – the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-2 (KSLV-2). Engine combustion lasted for 151 seconds, surpassing an initial goal of 140 seconds, bringing the vehicle to an altitude of 75km before the engine stopped. But it continued flying due to inertia, reaching a suborbital altitude of 209km, 319 seconds after lift-off. It then splashed down into the ocean 429km southeast of the southern resort island of Jeju. “This is a significant step forward in developing a launch vehicle with our own technology,” a KARI spokesman said. It is the first such launch in South Korea since 2013 when the country successfully put a small satellite into orbit following failures in 2009 and in 2010. But the significance of the 2013 launch was widely discounted as the launch vehicle had to rely on a Russian-developed engine for its first stage. On its launch – scheduled for 2021 – KSLV-2 will use five of the newly developed engines, a cluster of four for the first stage, another one for the second stage and a small, seven-tonne thrust engine for the third stage, Lee said. Yesterday’s test was deemed successful as the engine combustion was maintained for more than 140 seconds during the test launch, he said. The KSLV-2 rocket, which will be South Korea’s first space vehicle wholly designed and built by itself, will be used to place satellites into the Earth’s orbit and for other commercial applications.
A crashed Lion Air jet should have been grounded over a recurrent technical problem before its fatal journey, Indonesian authorities said yesterday, as details from the new jet’s flight data recorder suggested that pilots struggled to control its anti-stalling system. The preliminary crash report from Indonesia’s transport safety agency also took aim at the budget carrier’s poor safety culture, but did not pinpoint a cause of the October 29 accident, which killed all 189 people on board. A final report is not likely to be filed until next year. The Boeing 737 MAX vanished from radar about 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta, slamming into the Java Sea moments after pilots had asked to return to the capital. Investigators said Lion Air kept putting the plane back into service despite repeatedly failing to fix a problem with the airspeed indicator, including on its second-last flight from Bali to Jakarta. “The plane was no longer airworthy and it should not have kept flying,” Nurcahyo Utomo, aviation head at the National Transport Safety Committee (NTSC), told reporters. Lion Air’s contested the preliminary result and said it was going to seek a written clarification from the NTSC. “We think this statement is not true,” President Director Edward Sirait said. “The plane from Denpasar (Bali) was released and it was said (to be) airworthy according to documents and what the technicians have done.” “The plane was airworthy,” he added. The safety committee’s findings will heighten concerns there were problems with key systems in one of the world’s newest and most advanced commercial passenger planes. “But we don’t know yet whether it’s a Boeing or airline issue,” said aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman. Investigators have previously said the doomed aircraft had problems with its airspeed indicator and angle of attack (AoA) sensors, prompting Boeing to issue a special bulletin telling operators what to do when they face the same situation. The report confirmed that initial finding, saying the plane’s data recorder detected an issue with the AoA. It also said the plane’s “stick shaker” — which vibrates the aircraft’s steering wheel-like control yoke to warn of a system malfunction — was “activated and continued for most of the fight”. An AoA sensor provides data about the angle at which air is passing over the wings and tells pilots how much lift a plane is getting. The information can be critical in preventing an aircraft from stalling. The doomed plane’s flight data recorder showed that pilots had repeatedly tried to correct its nose from pointing down, possibly after erroneous data from AoA sensors was fed into a system that automatically adjusts some of its movements. Black box data showed the plane also had an airspeed indicator issue on multiple earlier flights, said investigators, who have yet to locate the cockpit voice recorder on the sea floor. Lion must take steps “to improve the safety culture” and bolster the quality of its flight logs, the transport agency said. “Airlines need to take paperwork seriously,” Soejatman said. “That didn’t cause the crash, but it can cause other problems in the environment they’re working in.” Despite a dubious safety record and an avalanche of complaints over shoddy service, the budget carrier’s parent Lion Air Group has captured half the domestic market in less than 20 years of operation to become Southeast Asia’s biggest airline. Indonesia’s aviation safety record has improved since its airlines, including national carrier Garuda, were subject to years-long bans from US and European airspace for safety violations, although it has still recorded 40 fatal accidents over the past 15 years. The report stopped short of making any recommendations to Boeing but the US planemaker has come under fire for possible glitches on the 737 MAX – which entered service just last year. The APA, a US airline pilots’ union, said carriers and pilots had not been informed by Boeing of certain changes in the aircraft control system installed on the new MAX variants of the 737. “I am really surprised if Boeing has not shared all the flight performance parameters with pilots, unions, and training organisations,” University of Leeds aviation expert Stephen Wright told AFP, adding that “a deliberate omission would have serious legal ramifications”. In response to Wednesday’s report, Boeing said: “(The company) is taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this accident, working closely with the US National Transportation Safety Board as technical advisors to support the NTSC as the investigation continues.” Several relatives of the crash victims have already filed lawsuits against Boeing, including the family of a young doctor who was to have married his high school sweetheart this month. Authorities have called off the grim task of identifying victims of the crash, with 125 passengers officially recognised after testing on human remains that filled some 200 body bags.