Sunday, September 30, 2012

West Papua: Australian Gov't backs Indonesian atrocities

The Australian government's support for Indonesia's occupation of West Papua reached absurd levels on September 12. Labor and Coalition senators voted down a Senate condolence motion for late refugee advocate and Papuan solidarity activist Vikki Riley on the basis that it contained the words “West Papua”.

The Don't Say These Words? blog said on September 13 that Country Liberal Senator Nigel Scullion told the mover of the motion, John Madigan of the Democratic Labor Party, that he would support the motion if the words “West Papua” were removed.

Labor Senator Trish Crossin said: “The government will not be supporting this motion because of her involvement with West Papua, in that it is in conflict with our foreign policy.”

Like Australia's infamous support for Indonesia's genocidal occupation of East Timor for more than two decades, Labor and Coalition governments back Indonesia's occupation of West Papua ― and assist its brutal suppression of the movement for liberation.

Richard Di Natale of the Greens said he was “staggered” at the position of Labor and the Coalition in refusing to support the condolence motion. “On the basis of her advocacy for the people of West Papua, who are currently being slaughtered, [the Senate is] going to vote down a condolence motion. Where is the courage to stand up and say: ‘Well done. You deserve our respect’? It is appalling.”

Madigan refused to alter the motion after consulting with Riley’s partner, Jimmy Hatton. Only the Greens, Madigan and independent Nick Xenophon voted in favour.

In related news, the former head of Indonesia's brutal Detachment 88 anti-terrorism unit has been appointed police chief in Papua province, part of the occupied nation of West Papua.

The Australian-funded and trained Detachment 88 faced scrutiny last month over its alleged role in the murder of leading Papuan independence activist Mako Tabuni in June.

The appointment of Tito Karnavian, who led the unit from 2004 to 2011, sends a clear message that the Indonesian government intends to foist more repression on the long-suffering people of West Papua.

The Jakarta Post said on September 26 that Karnavian promised to look into unresolved human rights abuses. The seriousness of such investigations is under question, as Detachment 88, under Karnavian, is alleged to be culpable in some of the cases. 

Detachment 88's involvement in Indonesia's long reign of terror in West Papua has risen in recent years. The unit was formed after an agreement between Australia and Indonesia in 2002, with Australia providing millions of dollars in funding and training, ostensibly to fight terrorism.

However the unit's involvement in politically motivated actions has raised little concern from the Australian government, which only raises limp diplomatic “concerns” while continuing to give millions.  

West Papua has been the site of ongoing human rights abuse since its takeover by Indonesia in 1963. The Indonesian government and military have maintained a situation of mass exploitation of the people and environment, robbing the area of its vast natural resources. This situation has meant most Papuans support independence from Indonesia.

Much of the area's wealth goes to Western and Indonesian corporations, leaving little for Papuans. The military and police are also known to run illegal businesses, particularly around the mining industry.

Straits Times said on September 20 that police were running a $100 million-a-year gold panning business in the waste from the Grasberg mine owned by Freeport McMoRan.

Security forces also launched a big operation last year, allegedly to increase control of gold panning in the Degeuwo River near a mine owned by Australian company West Wits. West Papua Media said last December that Detachment 88 were allegedly involved and that West Wits had allegedly lent its helicopters to security forces for the operation.

Meanwhile, West Papuan people suffer the worst standard of living in Indonesia.

Bintang Papua said on September 14 that many Papuans in remote areas had never received medical care because authorities had deemed it too hard to provide. Many people had no concept of what “medical personnel” were, such was the level of neglect.

The education system is also severely neglected. Lydia Freyani of the department of education (PAUDNI) told on September 16 that up to 1.9 million Papuan people were illiterate out of a population of 2.6 million.

Australia and other Western countries also lend political support to Indonesia's human rights abuses by making excuses for the violence and supporting Indonesia's “territorial integrity” ahead of the right of West Papuans to choose independence.

Chairperson of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) Victor Yeimo said on September 9: “The lust of economic and political expansion of the states, without feeling of guilt, continues to increase the suffering of the West Papuans ... People of West Papua fully understand how colonialism and exploitation scenarios work in this modern century.

“Labelling and stigmatisation of indigenous people as terrorists, and then kill and take control of land and its natural resources are the ways that are always used by the colonial countries and capitalists.

“Australia, Britain, the U.S. and Indonesia are implementing those ways in West Papua. The peaceful resistance movement in West Papua is being silenced by the Indonesian military forces.”
However, activists in Britain have sought to break the official silence by issuing a 50,000 reward for anyone who carried out a citizen's arrest on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on his upcoming visit to Britain, the Jakarta Globe said on September 19.

“We believe he should face justice as thousands of people are being killed in West Papua,” spokesperson for the Free West Papua Campaign Alex Regent told Harian Detik. By Ash Pemberton

Thailand's Wages of Populism

Rice and rubber subsidies will blight the budget, without helping rural areas.

Thailand's year-old policy of subsidizing producers of its two major export crops, rice and rubber, has obvious negative implications for government finances. But the development challenge underlying this misbegotten intervention remains salient for many middle-income countries: How to keep rural incomes from falling ever further behind those in urban areas?

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's decision last year to buy up rice at a 40% premium over the global price was motivated by a desire to help Thailand's rice farmers. These farmers were demanding better redistribution of the nation's wealth—and, not coincidentally, have been strong supporters of her Pheu Thai party. 

The policy has already cost the government about 260 billion baht ($8.4 billion) and another 400 billion baht has been approved for the next 12 months. Similarly, following demonstrations against falling rubber prices, the government pledged 15 billion baht for rubber buying.

The costs of these policies are clear. Rice prices this year enjoyed a brief uptick in the wake of the U.S. drought but have generally remained weak. Meanwhile, the Thai government has been accumulating stocks that can only be sold at a loss. Thais are producing more rice thanks to the government support, but the price floor provides incentive to growers to put quantity ahead of quality.

This comes at a time when other countries are stepping up rice exports. Burma, once the world's major rice exporter, is starting reforms that should soon enable it to take advantage of its plentiful land and low labor costs to boost production and exports, much as Vietnam did a decade ago.
Rubber could be a similar story. Thai rubber smallholders enjoyed years of good prices which rose from 40 U.S. cents per pound in 2002 to a peak of $2.65 in April 2011. Since then prices have fallen to $1.26 despite government intervention. 

This may not be merely a short-term drop in a traditionally volatile commodity. The longer-term rubber cycle appears to have turned, thanks to slackening global demand and the prospect of large new acreage in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia coming into production. Rubber tapping is a labor-intensive business, so there is every prospect of the Thai government becoming committed to almost permanent subsidies if its rubber growers are to enjoy the standard of living which they expect as Thais. 

All this means that Thailand is offering ever-larger subsidies it can ill afford. Barring unlikely sustained surges in global prices for rice and rubber, Ms. Yingluck looks to have saddled Thailand with subsidies that could prove even more difficult to remove than the fuel subsidies that blight the budgets of a long list of Asian countries. 

Also, scare stories about global food shortages don't provide any justification. Prices do spike, but the long-term price trend of most agricultural commodities remains negative. So the cost of subsidizing a particular price level is likely to rise.

One can sympathize with governments in semi-industrialized economies keen to avoid rural areas falling so far behind the metropolis as to foment urban-rural tensions. Thailand is especially prone to this problem after years of hostility that has occasionally broken into violence. Nor is it alone. China's urban-rural income gap is far worse than Thailand's, and only political repression keeps a lid on localized discontent. Importing cheap plantation labor as Malaysia does delays the problem but is no solution.

But that doesn't mean subsidies are the right way forward. Rather, policy makers need to encourage rural incomes to rise naturally through productivity gains. Efforts should be made to raise farm productivity through mechanization, land consolidation and new technology. 

In Thailand, as in other middle-income countries, money would be better spent on promoting land and labor productivity—both still low in rural Thailand. It's also time for Bangkok to accept that so much land can no longer be economically farmed. Considering rural populations are aging rapidly, Thailand needs price signals which will encourage productivity not volume production. Subsidies distort these.

Meanwhile, subsidizing major rural exports disadvantages other industries, and the farmers who grow unsubsidized crops. If you are going to subsidize, direct it to investment in yields and mechanization. 

Then again, subsidies are easier promised than paid for. The idea of some kind of farm subsidies remains alluring because even the developed economies—despite their preaching of free-trade deals—indulge in them. They're a fiscal drag for Europe and the U.S., but these subsidies are minimal compared to the economy because farmers comprise 3% to 5% of the workforce. In middle-income countries, when they're 20% to 30% of the workforce, there is a real risk of being stuck with a giant bill.

Thailand is not alone in the middle-income country problem of rural-urban income divides. 

Regrettably, these countries have nothing to learn from advanced countries—least of all those in Asia like Japan and Korea—which routinely subsidize farm production. Ms. Yingluck is misguided, but her mistake should focus attention on a very real dilemma, one that is particularly pressing for those facing still large rural electorates.

By Phillip Bowring Hong Kong-based journalist.  The Wall Street Journal

Saturday, September 29, 2012

China Alters Its Strategy in Diplomatic Crisis With Japan

BEIJING — After allowing anti-Japanese demonstrations that threatened to spin out of control, China has reined them in and turned instead to hard-edged diplomacy over disputed islands in the East China Sea to lessen any potential damage the conflict might have inflicted on the nation’s softening economy and a delicate leadership transition. 

With relations between the two Asian powers at a low point, China decided to go ahead with a scaled-back reception here on Thursday night to honor the 40th anniversary of the resumption of their diplomatic ties on Sept. 29, 1972. A member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee, Jia Qinglin, attended with several other Chinese officials. 

But Beijing sent a not-so-subtle message to Tokyo by not granting clearance to the plane that would have brought in an important Japanese guest, the chairman of Toyota. Other Japanese attended the event, though, and at the United Nations in New York, the two sides met in private and sparred in public. 

Around the disputed islands in the East China Sea, called the Diaoyu by the Chinese and the Senkaku by the Japanese, a large flotilla of Chinese patrol boats was being monitored Friday by about half of Japan’s fleet of coast guard cutters, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported. 

The protests in more than 80 cities, including in urban centers where Japanese car dealerships and electronics plants were damaged, suggested that the Chinese leadership approved the outpouring of nationalism in part as insulation against criticism of the party itself during the transition of power that formally is scheduled to take place at the 18th Communist Party Congress, now set to begin on Nov. 8. But the protests threatened to turn against the Chinese government itself, diplomats and analysts said. 

Even though China has overtaken Japan as the biggest economy in Asia, Beijing’s handling of the dispute, precipitated by the Japanese government’s decision to buy three of the islands from their private Japanese owners, highlighted the interdependence of the Chinese and Japanese economies, and the limitations on what the leadership could allow. 

Notions of punishing Tokyo economically for buying the islands, whose status was left unclear after World War II, are unrealistic, said Hu Shuli, editor in chief of Caixin Media and one of China’s chief economic journalists. So many Chinese workers are employed at Japanese-owned companies, she said, that any escalation of tensions leading to a boycott of Japanese goods could lead to huge job losses. 

This would be disastrous in an already shaky Chinese economy, Ms. Hu wrote in the Chinese magazine Century Weekly. 

At a time when overall foreign investment in China is shrinking, Japan’s investment in China rose by 16 percent last year, Ms. Hu noted. The Japan External Trade Organization reported $12.6 billion of Japanese investment in China last year, compared with $14.7 billion in the United States. 

Not just China, but all of Asia, could face a serious economic downturn if Japanese investments in China were threatened, said Piao Guangji, a researcher at the China Academy of Social Sciences.
Exactly how the anti-Japanese protests were organized, and by whom, remained murky. 

A rough chronology showed that immediately after the Japanese government announced it had bought the islands, protests began in Beijing and other cities. The protests then spread, reaching a peak on the anniversary of the Sept. 18, 1931, Mukden Incident, which led to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. After that, the protests were shut down. 

It appeared that permission for the weeklong protests had been discussed at very high levels, said one foreign diplomat who had followed the events closely. 

Analysts said the protests might have been used as a weapon by one party faction against another as part of the internal machinations over who would win positions on the Standing Committee, but precisely how those possibilities played out, if at all, was not clear. 

Bold color photographs on the front pages of state-run newspapers, particularly of the protests outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, were evidence that senior leaders approved of the demonstrations, and suggested that, in some respects, they were even organized by the government, diplomats said. 

Photographs of protests are rarely seen in the state-run news media, they noted. By running them, the government sent a message to the Chinese people that joining the demonstrations was acceptable, said a foreign diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with protocol.
Municipal workers in Beijing who normally guard local neighborhoods were called by their superiors at 4 a.m. on the day of one of the protests, directed to board buses that took them to the protest site outside the Japanese Embassy and provided with box lunches, one of the workers said. Their job was to provide security, alongside the police. 

As the demonstrations grew in intensity, there were increasing signs that they might get out of control. Several protesters in Beijing carried signs saying “Diaoyu belongs to China, Bo belongs to the people.” That was a reference to Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Communist Party boss of the western city of Chongqing, who had developed a populist following before he fell from power this year after his wife was accused of murdering a British business associate. 

Those signs were quietly removed from the hands of the protesters by plainclothes security men stationed around the crowd, said a person who watched one of the protests outside the Japanese Embassy. 

A few placards bearing portraits of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong stood out among the Chinese flags carried by most of the demonstrators. A protester in the southern city of Shenzhen was heard on television shouting, “Down with Communism!” 

The end of the protests, however, did not mean the end of the fury against Japan. 

At a meeting in Beijing this month, Western academics were taken aback by the depth of hostility toward Japan among Chinese foreign policy experts. 

There was talk of “conflict” to teach Japan a lesson, said John DeLury, an assistant professor at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul, for making what the Chinese see as an unacceptable grab of territory that historically has belonged to them. 

With the new leadership in Beijing set to assume full control soon, even as Japan may turn to a conservative Liberal Democratic government under the more hawkish Shinzo Abe in elections next year, a reduction in tensions looks remote, said Ren Xiao, a former Chinese diplomat who served at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo. 

“I think it will be less likely for the new Chinese leadership to make concessions,” said Mr. Ren, now a professor of international politics at Fudan University in Shanghai. “The same goes for a possible Liberal Democratic Party government in Japan. That’s why I am very worried about the Sino-Japanese relationship.” 

New York Times with Bree Feng contributing research.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Women and HIV

It will be impossible to eliminate infections without paying attention to women's needs
It is a grim fact that it will be impossible to eliminate new HIV infections across Asia unless the unique needs and perspectives of women and girls are attended to, a fact that the male-dominated medical profession often ignores.

With more and more women falling prey to the disease, the HIV epidemic increasingly has a female face and it is young girls in the age group of 12-20 years who most need better prevention and protection, Mitchell Warren, Executive Director of AVAC: Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, told CNS in an interview. There are now 35,000 women living with HIV in Cambodia, 81,000 in Myanmar, 88,000 in Indonesia and 210,000 in Thailand, according to World Health Organization statistics.

Women are particularly vulnerable to HIV, which is transmitted by sexual intercourse and infected blood. Sexual assault and other forms of violence against women are also important factors, according to a previous study on African infected women. Biology can also make women more susceptible to infection. But the factors that leave women most at risk are economic, social and political. Most women find themselves totally dependent on their male partners, limiting their negotiating power in terms of safer sex.

Male-dominated governments also often fail to consider the rights and needs of women and girls in their HIV policies and planning, despite increasing numbers of women living with HIV in Asean. Women and girls often face stigma and discrimination in health care settings and are subject to human rights violations like forced sterilization, forced abortion and compulsory HIV testing.

Earlier this week, young women, female sex workers, transgender women, women who use drugs and women living with HIV met in Luang Prabang, Laos, to call on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to support women and girls living with and affected by HIV.

Civil society and community groups representing key affected women and girls called for scaling up action and resources for policies and programs that address the rights of women and girls in the context of HIV and AIDS.

Women and girls from civil society including communities representing the voices from young women, female sex workers, transgender women, women who use drugs and women living with HIV came together under the umbrella of under the name Unzip the Lips. Their message at the Laotian conclave was clear. They are a platform of individuals and organizations working for the rights and meaningful participation of key affected women and girls in the context of HIV and its intersections with other gender issues in the Asia Pacific region.

As a united movement, the delegates were able to play a leading role in the development of recommendations arising from the meeting, in which delegates committed themselves to repealing punitive laws and ensuring that existing laws, regulations and policies of Asean member states address the rights of key affected women and girls affected by HIV and AIDS.

The problems are manifold for women. Across Asia, what has been called a culture of silence surrounds sex, dictating that "good" women be ignorant about sex and passive in sexual interactions, meaning women usually remain uninformed about risk reduction and unable or unwilling to demand that their partners practice safe sex.

Largely in these societies, women are afraid to ask for information about sex for fear they will be thought to be sexually active. In some societies, according to a paper by Geeta Rao Gupta of the International Center for Research on Women in the US, there is an erroneous belief that sex with a virgin can cleanse a man of infection. In addition, in cultures where virginity is highly valued, Rao Gupta wrote, some young women practice alternative sexual behaviors, such as anal sex, in order to preserve their virginity, despite the fact that anal sex can put them at increased risk of HIV.

Women’s risk increases in direct inverse proportion to their poverty level. Economic vulnerability makes it more likely that they will exchange sex for money, that they are less likely to demand protection, and more likely that they will stay in a dangerous relationship.

“And finally, the most disturbing form of male power, violence against women, contributes both directly and indirectly to women's vulnerability to HIV,” Rao Gupta wrote. “In population-based studies conducted worldwide, anywhere from 10 to over 50 percent of women report physical assault by an intimate partner. And one-third to one-half of physically abused women also report sexual coercion.”

“We are asking you to repeal laws that the affect sex workers, men who have sex, trans people, people who use drugs and people living with HIV,” Khartini, a sex worker and transgender woman who attended the Laos conclave told Asean delegates, “Don’t talk about getting to zero new HIV infections if you are not going to remove punitive laws and policies that restrict our human rights.”

The delegates restated their commitment to the Asean Declaration of Commitment: Getting to Zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, zero aids-related death. Community representatives applauded these commitments but stressed the need for Asean Member States to take action to fulfill their commitments.

“Asean member states have pledged to eliminate gender inequalities and gender based abuse and violence and increase the capacity of women and girls to protect themselves from HIV,” said Baby Rivona, an activist living with HIV. “We want to live in a world where these commitments are realized, where programs and funds, and resource are reaching us, key affected women and girls, ensuring that we can live in dignity and enjoy our human rights.” Asia Sentinel

(With reporting by Bobby Ramakant and Shoba Shukla of Citizen News Service)