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Asian summits concluded in Cebu January 19, 2007

Posted by genchan in ASEAN, China, Community, East Asia, Japan, Regionalism, Southeast Asia.
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The Asian summits were due to be held in mid-December last year but called off due to what the host country, Philippines, saw as an approaching thunderstorm that would wreck havoc the carefully planned meetings. Unofficially, part of the reason was thought to be due to fears of a looming terrorist attack based on external intelligence sources. Whatever the reasons, Philippines chose to play safe and postponed it to a month later on a last minute notice.

Thus, the summits were carried out in Cebu from the 13th to 15th January under heavy security, successfully concluded without the storm nor the attacks.

There were four summit level meetings held consecutively a day apart. In an ‘inductive’ format, the ASEAN leaders gathered for their 12th ASEAN Summit on the first day, followed by the 10th ASEAN Plus Three (APT) Summit and the 7th Tripartite Summit (plus three members) on the second day, and finally the 2nd East Asia Summit on the last day.

What have these meetings discussed and agreed upon? Below is a summary.

1. ASEAN Summit

  • uphold centrality of ASEAN and its standing as the driving force
  • five agreements were signed:
    1. Cebu Declaration Towards a Caring and Sharing Community – which reiterates ASEAN’s commitment to accelerate cooperation to improve the quality of life for citizens in the ASEAN region
    2. Cebu Declaration on the Blueprint for the ASEAN Charter – ASEAN leaders endorsed the Report of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on the ASEAN Charter and requested a task force to begin drafting the Charter before the next Summit.
    3. Cebu Declaration on the Acceleration of the Establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015 – which will advance the integration of the ASEAN Community five years ahead of the original plan.
    4. ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers – which will intensify ASEAN efforts to promote fair and appropriate employment protection for ASEAN migrant workers.
    5. ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism – aims at enhancing and deepening regional cooperation on counter terrorism activities.
  • hasten the establishment of an ASEAN Economic Community to  2015 by transforming ASEAN into a region with free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour, and freer flow of capital.
  • statement on Myanmar included in light of the failed UNSC resolution
  • agreed to forge closer cooperation with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

2. APT Summit

  •  reaffirmed the APT as the main vehicle in realizing an East Asia community, with ASEAN as the driving force, and with the active participation of the Plus Three members.
  • noted the scheduled adoption of the Second Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation at the next APT Summit in Singapore, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of APT cooperation. The statement shall identify opportunities and challenges and offer strategic guidance for future direction of APT apart from reviewing a decade of accomplishments.
  • acknowledged China’s proposal for a regional monitoring center on infectious diseases. Also acknowledged with appreciation Japan’s new pledge of USD 67 million for battling avian and pandemic influenza in the region.
  • welcomed the outcome of the feasibility study by the Expert Group on the EAFTA, which was spearheaded by China.  And also welcomed the proposal of South Korea to conduct the Phase II study involving the in-depth sector-by-sector analysis of the EAFTA.
  • welcomed the proposal of Japan to establish an Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).

3. Tripartite Summit

  • held for the first time in two years.
  • agreed to set up a trilateral consultation mechanism at level of senior foreign affairs officials to conduct close communication and coordination on regional matters.
  • agreed to start negotiations on trilateral investment agreement asap in 2007.
  • welcomed China’s proposal to designate 2007 as the Year of Cultural Exchange among China, Japan and South Korea.
  • agreed that the trilateral cooperation is important for East Asia cooperation and that they respect ASEAN as playing the leading role.
  • ‘abduction issue’ was not stated in the report but worded as “addressing the issue of humanitarian concerns of the international community”. China was reported as being supportive of Japan’s concerns in the abduction issue and would provide “necessary cooperation” (The Japan Times, Jan. 18, 2007)
  • took note of the progress and looked forward to more positive results of the joint research on trilateral FTA.

4. East Asia Summit

  • signed the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security to improve the efficiency and environmental performance of fossil fuel use, and to reduce dependence on conventional fuels, among others.
  • reiterated support for ASEAN’s role as the driving force for economic integration in the region.
  • agreed to launch a Track Two study on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) among EAS participants (based on Japan’s proposal for a free trade area among the 16 members).
  • included the phrase on the ‘abduction issue’ (first time ever) as Japan work to get support from the members for the unresolved abduction dispute between Japan and North Korea.

Apart from the above, there were ASEAN+1 summits held as well. With China, ASEAN signed an agreement on Trade in Services and another agreement on enhancing cooperation in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) on the 14th of January.

Other news include a AUD 5 million finance by Australia announced on 12th January for the second phase of the ASEAN Plus Three Emerging Infectious Diseases Progamme (EID), which aims to assist ASEAN countries in developing a regional instrument to mobilise multi –national (ASEAN) outbreak response teams.

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Aso & Tanigaki – next PMs? January 18, 2007

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Japan, Politics.
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Pundits have noted in the last September’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election that Taro Aso and Sadakazu Tanigaki knew they had no chance in defeating Shinzo Abe for the post but still went ahead because they wanted to position themselves and build up their bases for the next LDP race.

In short what they were targeting was not the present but the future.

Somehow, there appears to be some sense in this line of thinking. As reported in The Japan Times (Jan. 17, 2007), Aso admitted to making a proposal to Tanigaki that they “should form a political alliance in a bid to take turns holding the LDP’s top post and hence the prime ministership” on condition that Aso become PM first. This issue became public when Tanigaki broke what Aso alleged to be a ‘confidential conversation’ by mentioning about it in a recent lecture in Kyoto.

One wonders what is the reason behind Tanigaki’s open remarks if its not to undermine Aso for the top job. 

Obviously, the ultimate aim is not the LDP presidential post but the PM position which is effectively assured considering that the party holds a majority in the Lower house and is now gearing up for the upcoming Upper house election (at present LDP holds 111 seats out of 242 with the remaining coming from Komeito’s 24).

The fact that Aso is already looking towards a post-Abe era could mean that Abe’s position in office may be short-lived as the current PM battles resistance from vested groups who are against structural reforms and Constitution amendments and shore up his sliding popularity. 

Myanmar – a thorn in the ASEAN rose January 17, 2007

Posted by genchan in ASEAN, Government, Politics, Southeast Asia.
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ASEAN, which stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has been coming up with new initiatives and moves not only to adapt itself to a globalizing world but to create a better future for the region is once again bogged down by the inefficiency of its most troubled member, Myanmar.

Ever since the military junta came to power in 1962 and denied its citizens basic democratic values enjoyed by its Southern neighbors, such as the continuous detention of Aung San Suu Kyi for the past 2 decades and rampant human rights violations, it has been under the international spotlight of NGOs and Western governments who have slapped it with all kinds of economic and political sanctions.

Unfortunately, the sanctions have done little to destabilize the junta or cause it to shift course even though it did come up with a so-called “road map” for democracy – a plan denounced by the UN and Western nations as a sham. Paranoia and fearful of an attack by the West are what some believes to have led the regime to move its capital administration from coastal Yangon to inland Pyinmana that began from the end of 2005.

A new member of ASEAN, Myanmar only joined in 1997 and as such is less familiar with the values and aspirations of the group. Despite apprehension from certain quarters, Malaysia’s former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was thought to have played an instrumental role in Myanmar’s accession. Reasons for bringing Myanmar in ranges from using the grouping to resolve some of the conflicts between Myanmar and neighboring countries like Thailand, and socializing the reclusive state through constructive engagement, to preventing it from falling into the Chinese sphere of influence.

 10 years down the road, ASEAN has not been able to make any successful headway as the country has remained a stubborn thorn stuck deep in ASEAN’s heart. This has prompted Dr Mahathir to recently express his dissatisfaction and regret for incorporating Myanmar. A little too late for that. The question then becomes what to do with Myanmar to avoid it from dragging the feet of other members who are eager to move forward and plunging the organization into international disgrace.

One way is to expel it from the group but how to go about doing this is less clear since there are no clear rules on punishing a member for non-compliance. This could change eventually should the ASEAN Charter be adopted and rules of engagement become binding.

In the meantime, ASEAN would have no choice but to take responsibility in resolving the Myanmar problem now that China and Russia have vetoed a Washington-backed UNSC resolution “calling on the regime to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups” (The Japan Times, January 15, 2007) 

Part of the reasoning for China and Russia to veto is that human rights problem in Myanmar has not been a threat to regional/international security and thus do not justify Security Council action. Another part of the reason, some believes to be more apparent, is the closeness between China and Myanmar and the importance of Myanmar’s untapped natural resources to China’s booming economy.

While Myanmar celebrates in victory, the other ASEAN members weren’t pleased with the result as most of them saw the resolution as the best way to put pressure on Myanmar in ways that the grouping has not been able to do. Resigned to that fact, the agreement to take responsibility for Myanmar was only then added into the statement of the group’s annual summit in Cebu, Philippines.

How’s your brain health? January 4, 2007

Posted by genchan in General, Health, Lifestyle, Social.
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An avid supporter of anything that promotes health, I decided to blog a bit on the ways to stay ‘brain active’.

The Alliance for Aging Research, a non-profit citizen advocacy organization based in Washington, offers ten steps to keep our brains healthy. Below are the ten steps as reported in Yahoo! News (1.1.07):

  1. Eat a Brain-Healthy Diet. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (commonly found in fish), protein, antioxidants, fruits and vegetables and vitamin B; low in trans fats; and with an appropriate level of carbohydrates will help keep your brain healthy.
  2. Stay Mentally Active. Activities such as learning a new skill or language, working on crossword puzzles, taking classes, and learning how to dance can help challenge and maintain your mental functioning.
  3. Exercise Regularly. Exercising often can increase circulation, improve coordination, and help prevent conditions that increase the risk of dementia such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
  4. Stay Social. Spending time with friends, volunteering, and traveling can keep your mind active and healthy.
  5. Get Plenty of Sleep. Not getting enough sleep can have a negative impact on brain health.
  6. Manage Stress. Participating in yoga, spending time with friends, or doing other stress-relieving activities can help preserve your ability to remember and learn.
  7. Prevent Brain Injury. Wearing protective head gear and seat belts can help you avoid head injury, which has been associated with an increased risk of dementia.
  8. Control Other Health Conditions. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet, and controlling stress can help reduce your risk of diseases that affect your brain, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and hypertension.
  9. Avoid Unhealthy Habits. Smoking, heavy drinking and use of recreational drugs can increase the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
  10. Consider Your Genes. If your family history puts you at risk for developing dementia, work with your doctor to find ways to maintain your brain health to help avoid or slow the progression of cognitive decline.

These ten steps are not extraordinary or uncommon. You have probably heard about them over and over again. They are what your parents have been nagging you when you stay up late watching TV, engage in drinking and smoking, lazing on the sofa the whole day while munching on that favorite french fries, or disliking certain types of veges. While most of them are familiar to all of us, its interesting to note that learning something new be it for work or for leisure has positive implications for the health of our brains which is said to decline with age.

Apart from learning, which is mainly an input activity, it is important to balance it with output, i.e. the ability to express ourselves through words and actions by staying social. Having an active circle of friends could help us to unwind, gain feedback and exchange ideas/thoughts thus training our brain to remain vibrant and fresh.

As the steps clearly show, ensuring our brain health cannot be separated from having a fit body. Yet, there is one thing that is beyond our ability to control (at least at present) and that is what we inherited through our genes. So as long as we stay clear of the last point above, lets get working on the remaining nine steps and prevent cognitive decline.  

Japanese government’s Internet TV December 30, 2006

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Japan, Politics, Video.
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Few people are aware that the government of Japan actually has an online Internet TV – here. I found it interesting and thought I blog about it.

 The site, managed by the Cabinet Office, is in Japanese, so a Japanese software allowing you to access Japanese sites would be needed. However, there is one channel in English called “COOL JAPAN” (61ch). This is the only English channel that allow viewers to view reports and stories in English. A wide spectrum of issues are covered here ranging from reports on the recently concluded 14th APEC meeting in Hanoi to North Korean abduction issue to the use of rescue robots. Not only related to government activities, the channel also carry stories on Japanese society and culture by government supported magazines such as JAPAN+ and The Japan Journal.

The remaining 12 channels are all in Japanese. 3 channels are on the activities of the current prime minister, 2 channels on the Chief Cabinet Secretary and Ministers, 4 channels on ministerial related policies/issues, 1 channel on the progress/development of regions in Japan, 1 channel showcases images of Japan and 1 channel on weather related news. However, if you search under “Genre” (ジャンル), you will find a section on CM (commercial message) that publicize advertisements on various issues such as bullying which has become a national problem due to suicide cases of school children.

Far from being a propagandist site, it provides a load of information on Japan’s political, economic and social situations from a government perspective. Updated from time to time, its worth a visit if you have not done so yet.

Japan’s first online university December 29, 2006

Posted by genchan in East Asia, Education, Japan.
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Come April 1, 2007, Japan will have its first ever government approved online university that will offer all courses over the internet.

A four-year university to be named as “Cyber University” will be based in Fukuoka and operated by Japan Cyber Educational Institute Ltd., a subsidiary of Softbank Corp. As some of you might be aware, Softbank is a corporate giant in IT under its founder Masayoshi Son who recently bought over Vodafone K.K (a telecommunications company), making it one of the 3 mobile phone operators in Japan (NTT Docomo and KDDI are the other two).

There will be two faculties (Faculty of Information Technology and Business and Faculty of World Heritage) with about 100 faculty members. The first enrollment is expected to be around 1,300 where students can access course materials as well as recorded lectures online via their own PCs.  The plus side is that its internet-based courses will allow people young and old to receive higher education without the constraints of location, time, nationality and etc.

However, just like many other newly established institutions (slightly different in this case), the university will have to iron out problems like how to verify student’s identity and ensure that quality education is not compromised in any way. For more info, check out Asahi Shimbun and Softbank’s Press Release.

Flushing out mistakes in movies December 23, 2006

Posted by genchan in General, Movie, Video, You Tube.
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Practically all of us are into movies. Most, if not all, have watched those interesting block busters either in cinemas or in the comfort of our homes. They are so indispensable to our leisure life as we take breaks between our hectic schedules.

Yet, how many of us actually noticed the mistakes found in the movies we watch? I am not referring to those NG shots, the many retakes before the director finally gives an OK sign or some of those shots shown as a token at the end of a movie as some of you might be aware from Jackie Chan’s films.

Its those final releases that hit the box offices. The ones that you would think have gone through rigorous editing and properly spiced up with CGs. If you look closely, you will be amazed by the many errors you can find. Have you noticed in one of the Bond movies that in one shot Bond has a tie on but the next shot shows him without it? This kind of mistakes are so subtle that they could easily be missed by our naked eyes.

Obviously, we are not configured to look at those tiny details, less so in those big-screen cinemas where we have to roll our eyes in all directions to cover as many images as we can while listening attentively, not to mention some blank moments in betweens for snoozing off.

Below is an example of some of the mistakes found in movies. For more examples, visit Movie Mistakes.

Prostitutes on parade in China December 8, 2006

Posted by genchan in China, General, Social.
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Celebrating Prostitute Day? Nope. Its a ‘shame parade’ where about 100 prostitutes together with their male customers get paraded along a busy street watched by thousands of curious onlookers in Shenzhen, a hot-spot for such activities.

Wearing a bright yellow prison t-shirt, their surgical mask weren’t enough to shield their identity as their names, hometowns and dates of birth were made public in addition to 15 days in prison as part of their punishment.

The interesting part is that parading sex criminals is not something new in China. It has been done many times in the past. What’s different this time around is the increasing number of protest and outrage at an act considered too old-fashioned and an insult to women. Certainly, it violates human rights of which China has so often been accused of by the international community. And some critics question why prostitutes and not other crimes like grafts and corruption.

Interestingly, the authorities will be investigating the matter though its hard to see what good it will do since damage has been done.

Leading by example? December 7, 2006

Posted by genchan in General, Health, Japan, Lifestyle.
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02.jpg 01.jpg In Japan, metabolic syndrome has become a buzzword, a hot topic of sort and more and more people are paying attention to it. Its one of those health related issues that tend to plague industrialized countries, often affecting middle-aged people.

It starts with some extra padding around the waist, from a harmless bicycle tyre size to a harmful tractor tyre size bulging. Its not so much about physical appearance but internal effects that could raise one’s blood pressure and sugar level bringing about lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes, stroke and others.

 This has got people all worked up, thanks to the media. Now, the fitness industry is seeing a boom in business as people become more aware of their health risk and seek for ways to change their unhealthy lifestyles. Gradually, there have been a renewed interests in health equipments targeting home users and over-the-counter health food/supplements for those too lazy to sweat out in a local gym.

 Surprisingly, two Vice Ministers of Health, Labor and Welfare are trying to lead by example in a rare attempt of showing off their pot bellies as they are being measured and keeping to a simple health program for 6 months – here. Their goals? One aims to reduce his weight by 5 kg and waistline by 5cm while the other by 6kg and 6cm. Both are currently over 80kgs with a waist circumference of about 100cm.

And their program would be? Taking 10 min walks, avoid using elevators, avoid sweet carbonated drinks, reduce to 1 can of beer a day, reduce oily and fried food to a meal a day, and to take no more than 3 meals a day.

Noble! But how big a deal is loosing 5 or 6kgs over a period of 6 months based on the program above? Not much I would say. That was my first thought when I first read about it. Its hardly a diet and says nothing about metabolic syndrome let alone leading by example.

I guess that’s the best they can do or willing to do. They have until May 2007 before they are being measured again.

Blood flow thickness – a myth November 26, 2006

Posted by genchan in Health, Japan.
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In Japan, there is a widespread believe that the thickness of our blood flow – whether its swift (サラサラ) or sludgy (ドロドロ) – relates to our health – good or bad. In recent years, this believe has taken roots thanks to TV variety shows showing how blood flows in a medical machine where some peoples’ blood flow swiftly while some others get stuck and become sludgy. It feeds on the simple understanding that clean flow represents good health while sludgy flow (as in the image of mud) shows bad health.

This, unfortunately, has led to money making opportunities in capitalist Japan ranging from food items to health gadgets said to correct blood flow imbalance.

Finally, the truth has come out. A group of prominent doctors on a regular TV program decided to correct this misunderstanding. Put simply, its a myth. A bogus idea probably started by someone to earn money off people’s fears.

According to them, blood flow has nothing to do with our health condition. Blood flow can appear swift when we are relaxed and gets sludgy at times when we are stressed or under pressure. In short, our blood flow fluctuates and is capable of correcting itself. This indeed is good news! It is amazing to think how sometimes we can be fooled into believing something by taking things at face value.

While we are on the subject, be aware of bogus claim that shows blood cells overlapping each other or chapped shape of the cell on a microscope as an indication of bad health/disease. The former is due to the thickness of blood sample on the glass slide making the cells appear overlapping while the latter is due to time – a 20 sec exposure to air could cause the blood cell to die off showing chapped shape on the microscope. 

And while we are on the subject of health, let it be known as well that there is no real prove of a link between blood type and personality. This was made clear by the doctors as well. In Japan, young people especially women tend to assign personality/attitude to the four blood types. Some even go as far as choosing their life partner based on this. Just ask yourself if we can easily categorize 6 billion people on this planet into just 4 blood types, life would be a breeze.

Now, have you ever noticed greenish or blue-black veins (静脈) appearing on the surface of your skin, especially around your calf or behind your knee? It normally affects middle-aged women and is considered a disease by the doctors. This is because if left untreated, it could lead to skin disease and even death. Often, it happens to people who stand a lot (e.g. waiter or hairdresser), experienced pregnancy, etc. Its due to blood pressure flowing badly up. You can see it on your hands as well – it will appear/swell when you put your hands down and disappear when you lift them up above your heart level. So, how do you treat it? Either cut it off or kill it with laser or injection.