Friday, 29 April 2016

Job for new Philippine head: Stop the kidnapping of foreign citizens


Manila urgently needs to tackle problems in its own backyard to stop the kidnapping of foreign citizens.


PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was in Manila last November for the Apec Summit when he was informed by officials that Malaysian hostage, Bernard Then, who was abducted by the Abu Sayyaf group, was beheaded.

“He was upset and very shocked,” recalled a Malaysian official.

When he spoke to the Malaysian media in Manila, Najib said President Benigno Aquino had told him that Then’s beheading was probably carried out due to Philippine army operations and that Then had slowed down the militants who were moving from one place to another.

“That is not an excuse we can accept because he should have been released,” Najib told the media.

He described the beheading as savage and a barbaric act.

There seems to be no end to the kidnappings. Now more hostages, at least 20, are in the hands of the militants who are demanding ransoms.

They include four Malaysian sailors who were taken from their boat by Abu Sayyaf militants on April 1 in international waters near Pulau Ligitan. Their fate remains unknown.

Fourteen Indonesians travelling in tugboats from Borneo to the Philippines were also abducted by hijackers in two separate cases recently.

Even as the foreign governments were working to get their citizens released, more shocking news came – Abu Sayyaf gunmen had beheaded Canadian John Ridsdel in the southern province of Sulu, sparking condemnation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Indonesia is still struggling with how to deal with the kidnapping of its citizens and is hosting talks with Malaysia and the Philippines to boost maritime security.

The meeting of foreign ministers and military chiefs in Jakarta is to discuss joint patrols to protect shipping in the waters between the three countries following the kidnappings.

The Philippine military has said the militants have been targeting foreign crews of slow-moving tugboats because they can no longer penetrate resorts and coastal towns in Sabah due to increased security.

Last week, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman was in Manila to meet his Filipino counterpart, Jose Rene D. Almendras. More assurance was given that Manila was doing all it could to secure the release of the hostages.

The Philippine military and police reportedly said that “there will be no letup” in the effort to combat the militants and find the hostages. But they have had little success in securing their freedom.

All these assurances somehow ring hollow.

We are dealing with human lives. If the foreign governments are frustrated with the way the crisis is being handled by Manila, imagine the anguish and uncertainty of family members waiting for news of their loved ones.

The kidnappings are taking place in the Philippines’ own backyard and the question arises as to whether they are doing enough to tackle the problem at source.

The answer will be no. After all how do you explain the alarming number of people being kidnapped and brought back to the Philippines with a price put on their head?

It is election period in the Philippines. A lot of energy is spent on political campaigning by politicians and fears remain that the lives of the hostages are not on their priority list.

“Manila must be doing more to tackle the kidnapping and transborder crime activities and I seriously think they are not doing enough,” said a security official.

Security is a big challenge for the Philippines. While its military is battling the militants in the south, up north Manila sent its ships and aircraft to keep watch over the South China Sea, where tensions are building up with China.

Another problem has risen from these hostage-taking cases. It is affecting the economic activities of citizens living on both sides of the border.

Sabah has shut down its eastern international boundaries to cross- border trade as part of measures to clamp down on the kidnapping groups.

Barter trade is a lifeline for people on Tawi Tawi, the southern-most Philippine province and the closest to Sabah, for their rice, cooking gas and fuel.

Authorities in several Indonesian coal ports have blocked departures of ships for the Philippines over security concerns. Indonesia supplies 70% of the Philippines’ coal import needs.

The calls for joint navy and air patrol efforts among neighbouring countries are getting louder. But that is a stop-gap measure.

These kidnapping cases are affecting the image of the region as well.

Filipinos are about to elect a new president. Lets hope one of the priorities of the new leader is to tackle, with a lot of care, the safe release of the hostages and subsequently peace in southern Philippines.

By Mergawati Zulfakar The Star


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[2016-04-29 07:26] Rather than military prowess, it will be agreements achieved through dialogue and mutual trust that will guarantee long-term peace and security in Asia.

READ: Malaysian beheaded by Abu Sayyaf after kin failed to comply with ransom demand – military
There seems to be no end to the kidnappings. Now more hostages, at least 20, are in the hands of the militants who are demanding ransoms.
They include four Malaysian sailors who were taken from their boat by Abu Sayyaf militants on April 1 in international waters near Pulau Ligitan. Their fate remains unknown.

READ: 4 Malaysians reported seized by Abu Sayyaf


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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Cloud storage for personal files made safe

Utilise various services: As different Cloud services are suited to different types of files, it makes sense to spread your files out over several different Cloud storage providers. — Illustrations: MUHAMMAD HAFEEZ AMINUDDIN/The Star

Find the best space for your personal files on the Cloud.

In the movie Creed, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa character looks baffled when a young boxer snaps a picture of a handwritten exercise regime with his smartphone instead of just keeping the paper.

Balboa gets even more confused and looks skywards when the young boxer tells him it’s stored on the Cloud so that the information won’t be lost even if he loses his handphone.

It’s hard to deny the rising importance of Cloud computing in our daily lives, as most of the content, services, apps, and even enterprise systems today reside on the Cloud.

Most of us are probably aware of or have used services such as Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive.

These services, also known as public Cloud, requires little effort from you other than having to sign up for them.

Most are free and offer up to 15GB of space – if that’s not enough you can subscribe for a nominal sum to bump up storage space.

As these services are mostly operated by tech giants, you don’t have to worry about any of the technical stuff, but on the flipside, you don’t have much control over it.

If you wish to create your own Cloud, it’s now easier than ever as the price of devices and components ­needed to set up such a service have fallen a lot.

Also known as private Cloud, it allows you to keep your files within your own servers and manage them as you see fit.

It takes a bit of investment and know how – our accompanying story will help you decide if you should go for public or private Cloud.

Here we will explore the best public Cloud services so that you can pick one (or two or three) that meets your needs best.

Free and easy

Almost all the public Cloud offerings have a free option – they differ mostly in the size or additional services offered.

Our pick for the best free Cloud service is Google Drive, as you get 15GB without having to spend a single sen.

More importantly, Google has tied Drive to its online services such as Gmail, Photos and Keep, as well as ­productivity tools like Docs, Sheets and Slides.

So all your photos and documents will be synced automatically and will be available from one place.

If 15GB option is too limiting then you can opt to subscribe. For US$1.99 (RM8) a month, you get 100GB of ­additional space.

If you just want sheer volume then try out Mega which offers a whopping 50GB of space for free.

It doesn’t set a limit on file size like most of the other services, but we found the data transfer speed to be a bit slow.

Space for shutterbugs

It goes without saying digital cameras and smartphones in particular have made it easier than ever for everyone to shoot photos.

The real problem, however, is in managing your photos and finding a place to store them.

Most back them up to a desktop or laptop and while it’s better than not backing up at all, is not a good solution as all hard drives have a finite lifespan.

If you don’t have redundancy then you need to find a better solution in the Cloud and we recommend Flickr.

It gets our vote because it offers 1TB of space for free, which should meet the requirements of most users.

Photo size is capped at 200MB while video at 1GB for a single file which is reasonable.

It also has smart photo management which will automatically sort out ­images according to groups such as animals, people and buildings.

Free users will, however, see ads and will not be able to access the ­desktop app for uploading photos.

Like most services, it doesn’t support the uncompressed RAW file format which is preferred by photographers who use DSLRs.

If you like keeping your file as RAW, you will need a service like Amazon Cloud Drive which allows you to upload an unlimited number of ­photos, including RAW files.

Its Unlimited Photos plan will cost you US$11.99 (RM50) a year which is not too bad as RAW files take up a lot of space.

The unlimited offer doesn’t extend to other files, including video – for these files you are limited to only 5GB.

If you need to find space for your videos then you will have to opt for the more expensive plan called Unlimited Everything which costs US$59.99 (RM240) a year. This service, while expensive, lets you upload to your heart’s content.

Cross platform

Nowadays it’s not uncommon to own multiple devices running on different platforms.

If you have, say a MacBook Air for work, Windows PC at home and Android smartphone, you need a Cloud service that supports as many platforms as possible.

While the dominant operating systems – Windows, OS X, Android and iOS are usually supported, other operating systems such as Windows Phone and Linux are often overlooked.

Thankfully Dropbox doesn’t do that – it supports almost every platform, including the ones mentioned above. If you want an alternative, try Box, as it also works on many platforms except Linux.

By Lee Kah Leng The Star

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

‘Free trade’ in trouble in the United States


  The United States
  Current Bilateral/Multilateral FTA's
  Proposed/Suspended Bilateral/Multilateral FTA's
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_free_trade_agreements

As free trade reaches a crossroads in the US, developing countries have to rethink their own trade realities for their own development interests.


“FREE trade” seems to be in deep trouble in the United States, with serious implications for the rest of the world.

Opposition to free trade or trade agreements emerged as a big theme among the leading American presidential candidates.

Donald Trump attacked cheap imports especially from China and threatened to raise tariffs. Hillary Clinton criticised the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) which she once championed, and Bernie Sanders’ opposition to free trade agreements (FTAs) helped him win in many states before the New York primary.

That trade became such a hot topic in the campaigns reflects a strong anti-free trade sentiment on the ground.

Almost six million jobs were lost in the US manufacturing sector from 1999 to 2011.

Wages have remained stagnant while the incomes of the top one per cent of Americans have shot up.

Rightly or wrongly, many Americans blame these problems on US trade policy and FTAs.

The downside of trade agreements have been highlighted by economists like Joseph Stiglitz and by unions and NGOs. But the benefits of “free trade” have been touted by almost all mainstream economists and journalists.

Recently, however, the establishment media have published many articles on the collapse of popular support for free trade in the US:

> Lawrence Summers, former Treasury secretary, noted that “a revolt against global integration is under way in the West”. The main reason is a sense “that it is a project carried out by elites for elites with little consideration for the interests of ordinary people”.

> The Economist, with a cover sub-titled “America turns against free trade”, lamented how mainstream politicians are pouring fuel on the anti-free trade fire. While maintaining that free trade still deserves full support, it cites studies showing that the losses from free trade are more concentrated and longer-lasting than had been assumed.

> Financial Times columnist Phillip Steven’s article “US politics is closing the door on free trade” quotes Washington observers saying that there is no chance of the next president or Congress, of whatever colour, backing the TPPA. The backlash against free trade is deep as the middle classes have seen scant evidence of the gains once promised for past trade deals.

> In a blog on the Wall Street Journal, Greg Ip’s article The Case for Free Trade is Weaker Than You Think concludes that if workers lose their jobs to imports and central banks can’t bolster domestic spending enough to re-employ them, a country may be worse off and keeping imports out can make it better off.

Orthodox economists argue that free trade is beneficial because consumers enjoy cheaper goods. They recognise that companies that can’t compete with imports close and workers get retrenched. But they assume that there will be new businesses generated by exports and the retrenched workers will shift there, so that overall there will be higher productivity and no net job loss.

However, new research, some of which is cited by the articles above, shows that this positive adjustment can take longer than anticipated or may not take place at all.

Thus, trade liberalisation can cause net losses under certain conditions. The gains from having cheaper goods and more exports could be more than offset by loss of local businesses, job retrenchments and stagnant wages.

There are serious implications of this shift against free trade in the US.

The TPPA may be threatened as Congress approval is required and this is now less likely to happen during Obama’s term.

Under a new president and Congress, it is not clear there will be enough support.

If the US does not ratify the TPPA, the whole deal may be off as the other countries do not see the point of joining without the US.

US scepticism on the benefits of free trade has also now affected the multilateral arena. At the World Trade Organisation, the US is now refusing attempts to complete the Doha Round.

More US protectionism is now likely. Trump has threatened to slap high tariffs on Chinese goods. Even if this crude method is not used, the US can increasingly use less direct methods such as anti-dumping actions. Affected countries will then retaliate, resulting in a spiral.

This turn of events is ironic.

For decades, the West has put high pressure on developing countries, even the poorest among them, to liberalise their trade.

A few countries, mainly Asian, staged their liberalisation carefully and benefited from industrialised exports which could pay for their increased imports.

However, countries with a weak capacity, especially in Africa, saw the collapse of their industries and farms as cheap imports replaced local products.

Many development-oriented economists and groups were right to caution poorer countries against sudden import liberalisation and pointed to the fallacy of the theory that free trade is always good, but the damage was already done.

Ironically, it is now the US establishment that is facing people’s opposition to the free trade logic.

It should be noted that the developed countries have not really practised free trade. Their high-cost agriculture sector is kept afloat by extremely high subsidies, which enable them to keep out imports and, worse, to sell their subsidised farm products to the rest of the world at artificially low prices.

Eliminating these subsidies or reducing them sharply was the top priority at the WTO’s Doha Agenda. But this is being jettisoned by the insistence of developed countries that the Doha Round is dead.

In the bilateral and plurilateral FTAs like the TPPA, the US and Europe have also kept the agriculture subsidy issue off the table.

Thus, the developed countries succeeded in maintaining trade rules that allow them to continue their protectionist practices.

Finally, if the US itself is having growing doubts about the benefits of “free trade”, less powerful countries should have a more realistic assessment of trade liberalisation.

As free trade and trade policy reaches a crossroads in the US and the rest of the West, developing countries have to rethink their own trade realities and make their own trade policies for their own development interests.


By Martin Khor

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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Friday, 22 April 2016

Locking horns over human rights

Human rights matter: Demonstrators protesting the shooting death of 16-year-old Pierre Loury confront police after shutting down the Eisenhower Expressway during a march in Chicago, Illinois recently. — Getty Images/ AFP


http://english.cntv.cn/2016/04/17/VIDE0l4zwWjzir4IqZ8mEs9m160417.shtml

It’s April and time for the usual tit-for-tat exchange between China and the United States over their human rights practices.




APRIL is the month when the two biggest economies in the world – the United States and China – lock horns in an annual exchange over each other’s human rights practices.

Since 1977, the United States has been releasing its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, giving its review of human rights issues in countries around the world (but not its own).

And in a retaliatory fashion, Beijing would follow up the next day with its Human Rights Record of the United States in response to the criticisms piled on China.

The Chinese tradition began in 1998 and functioned like a “mirror” for the United States to examine its own human rights flaws. In the words of this year’s document: “Since the US government refused to hold up a mirror to look at itself, it has to be done with other people’s help.”

This year’s collision happened last week.

In the US 2015 report, Washington criticised China’s repression of people involved in civil and political rights advocacy and China’s crackdown on the legal community.

It also highlighted the disappearance of five men in Hong Kong’s publishing industry, believing that Chinese security officials were responsible.

Among others, the report also drew attention to the repression of the minority Uighurs and Tibetans, and tight control on the Internet and media.

As expected, the comments did not go down well with Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang accused the United States of politicising the human rights issues in China to undermine the country’s stability and development.



“It’s nothing new for the United States to find fault with the internal affairs of other countries in the name of human rights,” he said.

China’s report, on the other hand, curtly labelled the US human rights record as “terrible”, “no improvement”, and plagued with “numerous new problems”.

Citing statistics, surveys and news reports, it zeroed in on the gun violence and excessive police violence, corrupt prison system and the prevailing money and clan politics in the United States.

Racial relations are “at their worst in nearly two decades,” it added.

And, most notably, Beijing reprimanded the United States for violating human rights outside its borders. Examples cited were the deadly Iraqi and Syrian air strikes, drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, and bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan.

The United States is “treating citizens from other countries like dirt,” the report said.

One of the sections in China’s report was reserved for the economic and social rights of US citizens, which Beijing said did not record substantial progress.

A gloomy picture of the United States was painted: “Workers carried out mass strikes to claim their rights at work. Food-insecure and homeless populations remained huge. Many US people suffered from poor health.”

When the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Lu rejected the US report last week, he pointed out that China’s efforts in promoting human rights have resulted in “great achievements that have attracted worldwide attention”.

While he did not elaborate on the great achievements, China has always been championing eradication of poverty as “one of the greatest human rights successes a country could hope for,” as state news agency Xinhua put it early last month.

In an article to dispute the West’s attack on China’s human rights record at the United Nations, Xinhua pointed out that lifting people out of poverty is an area of human rights that is often overlooked by Western countries, in particular the United States.

“China’s achievements in alleviating immense poverty along with its other human rights feats are victim to the West’s selective amnesia,” it stated.

China has a “moderately prosperous society” goal to lift all of its poor out of poverty by 2020. Among the efforts by the Government, according to Xinhua, are increasing the budget to relief poverty by 43%, improving infrastructure in regions with minorities, and reforming the healthcare system.

By rolling out these facts and figures, Xinhua hoped it could change the West’s “tired and dated view” of human rights in China, but added that it won’t hold its breath.

Till next April, then.

By Tho Xin Yi Check-In-China, The Star

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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Release of fraud suspects disgraces Taiwan




  • Parties, media call for justice for telecom fraud victims

  • Parties, media call for justice for telecom fraud victims. Political parties and media outlets from Chinese Mainland and Taiwan have denounced a telecom fraud case, and said the suspects must be brought to justice. This is after Taiwan police on Saturday released 20 suspects who were deported from Malaysia....

Malaysia repatriated a group of telecom fraud suspects Friday, including 20 Taiwanese. Taiwan authorities maneuvered to have them sent to Taiwan.

To the surprise of the outsiders, these Taiwanese suspects were released in a few hours after arrival at Taoyuan International Airport.

When Kenya last week sent a batch of telecom fraud suspects to the Chinese mainland, also including Taiwanese, it triggered a public outcry in Taiwan. Pro-independence media and leading figures, including Tsai Ing-wen, protested against the mainland for "illegal abduction." Now Taiwan is showing that it is more lenient to fraud suspects than anywhere in the world.

Taiwan's judicial authorities expressed that the crime was committed in Malaysia and victims were mainlanders. Since they do not hold evidence against these suspects, they have to release them first.

However last week, the same department stated that it was in accordance with international law that Kenya repatriated Taiwan suspects to the mainland, and "only the mainland can hold them in control." Pro-independence forces would not admit the change was a result of pressure they exerted.

To the outside world, protests against the mainland and releasing suspects show the ugly side of Taiwan politics when it is taken hostage by radical public opinion.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is manipulating and coping with populism.

The release of the 20 suspects has disgraced the Taiwanese media and Taiwan's rule of law.

The mainland is clear how the DPP is manipulating public opinion to instigate "anti-China" sentiments. Swayed by such sentiments, Taiwan politics prioritizes stance over facts.

Western democratic politics can easily provide a hotbed for radicalism and extremism. Taiwan and Hong Kong both have demonstrated this tendency.

A judiciary case, which should be fact-oriented, is turned into a political event across the Straits. The suspects even applauded Taiwan for its "human rights" after being released. Should the mainland feel indignant or treat it with disdain?

The key is that the mainland should stick more firmly to its principles, and resolutely resist the rascally demands by Taiwan's twisted politics.

Taiwan's poor performance in handling the suspects is also teaching a lesson to other countries. Malaysia is proved wrong in repatriating the fraud suspects back to Taiwan. Kuala Lumpur should learn from the case and not be tricked by Taiwan in the future.

Taiwan, which is an inseparable part of China, is always eager to prove it is a "country." Taiwan's ingrained sense of inferiority and paranoia have permeated into its politics, resulting in its self-righteous performances, of which Taiwan's public should be aware.- Global Times

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