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South Korean hotspot

Jeju [NAVAL BASE]

It is among the world’s busiest shipping regions and the suspected home of vast oil and gas reserves. So it is perhaps little surprise that the South China Sea is also a hotbed of territorial conflict among powerful neighbours such as China, Japan and South Korea.

Now, however, South Korea is raising the stakes in terms of maritime power by pushing ahead with the construction of a new naval base with an arsenal of 20 state-of-the-art vessels on its southernmost island Jeju. The project is an ambitious €670m effort to create a modern new face for South Korea’s 69,800 naval personnel and 160 vessels at a time of growing regional instability.

“The Korean navy has insisted that it should expand its role and enhance its capabilities for the protection of maritime interests,” says Dr Park Chang-kwoun, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defence Analysis. “The Jeju base is planned to meet new security demands by the Korean navy and reflects its growing capability.”

Called a “multipurpose port complex” by the government, the project also targets tourism, mooring 150,000-tonne cruise ships. Protests and legal suits have delayed construction attempts – until now. Building work is underway and it seems that the government is determined to complete it by 2015.

Jeju facts:

  1. Jeju is South Korea’s only so-called Special Self-Governing Province, with autonomous policies relating to issues from education to policing.
  2. The oval-shaped island – the nation’s largest – is located 130km from South Korea’s coastline, with the South China Sea starting from its southern shores.
  3. Among its nine Unesco geological sites are volcanic Hallasan – the nation’s highest mountain – and Manjanggul Cave, the world’s longest lava tube.

Election watch

Mongolia

  • Type: Parliamentary
  • Date: June
  • Candidates: The Mongolian People’s Party will seek to retain its handy majority but the principal opposition, the Democratic Party, have the advantage of having one of its own Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj – in the presidential palace.
  • Issues: This is the first election in which representatives to the Great Khural will be elected by party nomination and proportional representation – hopefully not followed by violence as in the last poll.
  • Monocle comment: The recent arrest of former president Nambar Enkhbayar was hailed by some as a blow against corruption, condemned by others as a political abuse of the law.

Off the rails

Cambodia [TRAINS]

The long-mooted Singapore-to-Scotland rail link is not running to schedule. The culprit: a derailment in Cambodia. The aim was to link Cambodia’s railway to Thailand and later Vietnam. That gave rise to the tantalising notion of an epic journey from Edinburgh’s Golden Mile to Singapore’s Orchard Road. But the funding – largely from the Asian Development Bank – has run out. The Australian train operating company, Toll, has suspended its Cambodian operations. So is this the end of the “Iron Silk Road”? Perhaps not. China and South Korea have both expressed interest in putting up cash. For Southeast Asia, this may yet be the age of the train.

Q&A - Akihiko Tanaka

President, Japan International Cooperation Agency

Tokyo

Tanaka is the new president of JICA, the government body that coordinates and implements Japan’s development assistance. Tanaka, formerly vice-president of Tokyo University, is a professor of international politics. In 2011 Japan contributed $10.6bn (€8bn) in aid, putting it in fifth place in the OECD’s global aid ranking.

How do you see JICA’s role?
It is Japan’s duty as a member of the international community to tackle the various challenges within it. This will lead to peace and prosperity for Japan as well. [Aid] is one of the most important tools for making our contribution.

Which geographical areas is JICA most concerned with?
Assistance to Africa continues to be important in terms of poverty reduction. At the same time, assistance to the Asian region remains important since it will help to develop upper-middle-income and middle-income ASEAN countries and raise the general economic level of Asia.

Prime Minister Noda said that after the 2011 earthquake Japan should continue to contribute to international aid. What’s the impact on JICA?
The attitude of Japanese citizens towards aid has become more positive, which is welcome news for us.

No one’s fault

India [DIVORCE]

The Indian parliament has paved the way for an effective “no-fault” clause to be applied to the country’s divorce laws for the first time. Until now, couples wishing to split have had to prove that one side was at fault, and the difficult process could take up to eight years in various courts. But once ratified by the president, the “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” will be recognised.

“Certainly this will cause the divorce rate to rise, as people will feel they will be able to get a divorce more easily form the courts,” says Delhi divorce lawyer Osama Suhail. India has one of the world’s lowest divorce rates, estimated at around 7 per cent.

China dominates ASEAN

Asia

The annual ASEAN summit – a meeting of the 10 nations in Southeast Asia – is becoming dominated by the Asian giant which isn’t part of the group: China. The biggest argument is over who controls the South China Sea – six countries have overlapping claims.

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