The Timor-Leste prime minister's motorcade, the benefits of Shanghainese and the fate of bluefin tuna in the waters off Japan.
Travelling overseas can be an ordeal for Timor-Leste’s prime minister, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão. It’s not just because of the remoteness of this southeast Asian island nation. Timor-Leste doesn’t have any official state airplanes or helicopters for its prime minister and president and the few available short-haul flights connect the capital, Dili, with only three other cities in the region.
But that hasn’t stopped Gusmão from taking plenty of trips to farflung places. Last year his globetrotting included three countries in Africa, one in Europe and nine in southeast Asia. Much of Gusmão’s diplomatic agenda was focused on rallying support for his country’s bid for Asean membership. So far this year he has been to the UK, Portugal, Indonesia and Australia but his trips could taper off as he nears his own planned exit from office in September.
For international trips, Gusmão typically sits in First Class aboard commercial flights. (The two plainclothes security officials who accompany him sit in Economy.) Though Gusmão is known for his relatively modest lifestyle, he likes to go on long-haul flights with a Filipino masseur who is paid €1,080 a day from public coffers. That’s an extravagance for a man who leads a nation that’s one of the world’s poorest, with half of its population of 1.2 million scraping by on less than €0.63 ($0.88) a day.
When commuting in Dili, Gusmão rides in a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. The vehicle’s 4wd doesn’t get much use in the capital but it’s vital for Gusmão’s regular trips to meet constituents in rural districts. It’s the same model that he had when mutinous troops attacked his motorcade and shot then-president Jose Ramos-Horta in February 2008. That assassination attempt led Gusmão to switch to an armoured suv but after a few weeks he decided to go back to the standard Land Cruiser.
At times Gusmão, a former militant who was a key figure in Timor-Leste’s independence from Indonesian rule in 2002, has demonstrated a lax approach to personal security. In 2012 Gusmão surprised motorists in Dili when he suddenly emerged from his suv to direct traffic and clear a jam that was blocking his motorcade from getting through.
Timor-Lests’s leaders have to book seats with one of four airlines that fly overseas. Their choice of destinations is limited – Darwin, Australia; Denpasar, Indonesia; or Singapore. Large, long-haul aircraft can’t fly to Dili because the runway is too short and narrow but the government plans to begin multi-million-euro upgrades sometime next year.
Toyota Land Cruiser Prado
The prime minister’s Toyota suv was purchased last year. The 4wd vehicle has become a favourite among politicians in Timor-Leste because it can handle rough terrain and unpaved roads in rural areas. The government keeps a backup Land Cruiser in case the prime minister’s primary vehicle needs repairing.
Japan is about to adopt tough limits that could help save the Pacific bluefin tuna. Japan’s new rules on its fishing fleet would apply to juvenile tuna weighing less than 30kg, a move that would halve its annual haul to around 4,000 tonnes. That’s a big deal because Japan catches more than half of the bluefin tuna consumed globally and overfishing juvenile tuna is thought to be contributing to the decline of the species.
“Our simulation models showed that stricter quotas were the only way for the Pacific bluefin to stage a comeback,” says Mako Iioka, an official at Japan’s Fisheries Agency. Despite last year’s agreement on quotas by the 26-nation Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, unregulated fishing and a growing appetite for bluefin tuna in Asia have fed concerns about the survival of the species. Tokyo’s decision raises hope that other nations could take similar action.
Speakers of Shanghai’s dialect used to look down on those who used Mandarin in their city, viewing them as uncultured outsiders. Now, like other regional Chinese dialects, Shanghainese is at risk of dying, the victim of the government’s promotion of a Mandarin-only policy in schools.
But this year, the Shanghai government is launching a pilot project to encourage the use of the dialect in 20 kindergartens across the city. This follows the introduction of the first Shanghainese textbook and the launch of a Shanghainese TV news programme two years ago. A linguist at Shanghai University has also compiled the first Shanghainese dictionary and developed a software program allowing computer users to type characters in the dialect.
If such efforts prove successful, Shanghainese may at least recapture a speaker base, if not its cultural cachet.
- Politics: Depending on your point of view, President Xi Jinping has either concentrated power by suffocating all other sources of influence, or governance in China still requires lots of consensus. New committees on the economy and military look like solidifying Xi’s power.
Economy: Beijing this year set its lowest growth target since 1999 – 7.5 per cent. Premier Li Keqiang is counting on free-trade agreements with big economies such as the US and Australia.
Diplomacy: The South China Sea was the scene of unprecedented cooperation between China, Vietnam and the Philippines during the search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370. The crisis in Crimea has also forced Beijing to tread a fine line between its support for Russia and its long-standing view on protecting sovereignty.