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Global Updates: Asia and the Pacific


China's checkbook diplomacy in the South Pacific and secrecy over its aid program to small island nations is having a destabilizing impact on the region, an Australian foreign policy think tank said on June 11. China's promised aid to Pacific Islands nations has increased from USD 33 million in 2005 to about USD 293 million in 2007, with the key aim of stopping small nations from recognizing Taiwan, Lowy Institute researcher Fergus Hanson said. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province, but six tiny island nations officially recognize Taiwan, prompting an aid bidding contest between China and Taiwan for recognition. (Reuters)


An indefinite strike called by a regional political party is continuing to disrupt life in India's tea-producing Darjeeling area. The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) has asked workers of the West Bengal state government to leave. On June 10, they asked all tourists to quit the area. Darjeeling is part of West Bengal. The GJM is seeking a separate state. At least 15 people were wounded when Gorkhas and Bengali and Hindi-speakers clashed on June 10. On June 9, the Gorkhas protested saying their supporters had been attacked by workers of the state's ruling Marxists. The communists have denied the charge. (BBC)


Religious intolerance is on the rise in Indonesia, as shown by attacks on a minority Muslim sect, a Catholic priest and a moderate Muslim leader said on June 11. The tolerant image of Muslim-majority Indonesia has been knocked in recent months as mosques and buildings belonging to Ahmadiyya, a sect branded by many Muslims as "heretical", have come under attack amid a debate over whether to outlaw the group. Christians and other minority religions have in general been able to worship freely in Indonesia, with few problems for example over changing religion or inter-religious marriages, Catholic priest Franz Magnis told foreign correspondents. (Reuters)


PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, trying to calm public anger over a steep rise in fuel prices, said on June 11 there will not be more hikes. Malaysia followed India, Indonesia, Taiwan and Sri Lanka when it raised pump prices last week and provoked a public outcry and protests by opposition groups. On June 9, Nepal became the latest Asian nation to increase prices to stem losses of a state firm. "The government feels that the people are still trying to adjust to the high oil price situation," Abdullah said in a statement. (Reuters)

Myanmar (Burma)

Survivors in Myanmar's cyclone-devastated Ayeyarwady Delta will likely need food assistance for as long as a year, the UN warns. Many farmers will not be able to plant rice for this year's crucial monsoon paddy crop, due to the severe damage to their fields and a shortage of farming supplies after the category four storm swept across southern Myanmar. Paul Risley, a spokesman for the World Food Program (WFP), says Cyclone Nargis' accompanying tidal surge washed away or severely damaged the rice stocks of most of the delta's rural households, leaving many families with little to sustain them in the coming months. (IRIN)


Militants in Pakistan executed a woman after accusing her of being a spy for the US and a prostitute, and said others would face the same fate, a government official and villagers said on June 11. It was the first time that a woman had been killed in northwest Pakistan after being accused of spying although militants have killed many men they accused of helping US forces in neighboring Afghanistan. The body of the unidentified woman was found dumped beside a road near the town of Khar in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border, a hotbed of support for al Qaeda and Taliban militants. (Reuters)


The ongoing rice crisis will push many more Filipino families into poverty and prevent the country from achieving the Millennium Development Goal to cut extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, according to NGOs. "We are definitely not going to meet MDG1 [the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger]," says Joel Saracho, national coordinator of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP-Philippines). "There is going be a further delay in achieving it by 2015." Saracho predicted that the rice crisis would continue for some time, putting more pressure on Philippine food security and self-sufficiency and hitting the poor hardest. (IRIN)

South Korea

Many thousands of demonstrators are rallying late into the night in Seoul in the latest protest sparked by anger over US beef imports into South Korea. Protesters, monitored by thousands of riot police, demanded the resignation of President Lee Myung-bak. The protest comes after South Korea's entire cabinet offered to resign amid the continuing protests. Yonhap news agency said President Lee Myung-bak was likely to accept the resignations of several ministers. The protesters are angry that South Korea has agreed to resume imports of US beef, which were suspended in 2003 after an outbreak of BSE, or mad cow disease, in cattle there. (BBC)

Sri Lanka

The European Commission has serious concerns about Sri Lanka's human rights record and will withhold a EUR 70 million aid package unless it opens up, a top EU official said on June 11. The commission said the package was dependent on Sri Lanka removing barriers to humanitarian assistance, including resolving visa issues for Red Cross and UN workers in the country. "We expressed our serious concerns with the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, as indicated by a range of sources including reports from UN rapporteurs," Deputy Director General for External Relations of the European Commission Joao Machado said in a statement. (Reuters)


About 10,000 Taiwan convenience stores will join an environmental push by withholding disposable chopsticks from customers used to getting them with take-out meals, officials and local media said on June 11. From next week in Taipei, and by July 1 on the rest of the island, four convenience store chains will give out the wooden single-use chopsticks only on request, the Environmental Protection Administration said. The change, the result of an agreement between the chains and the government, will surprise countless office workers, travelers and others who have been used to grabbing chopsticks with instant noodles or boxed lunches for decades. (Reuters)

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