Ahad, 27 Oktober 2013

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Soaking up Biennale art - in sarongs


IT was wet. It was messy. It was fun. And it was art.

The lawn of the National Museum saw 100 women, men and children dressed in sarong wraps, sitting in plastic tubs of water, drenching themselves and having a ball.

They were taking part in a mass Mandi Bunga – flower bath – in a 10-minute performance art piece by Malaysian artist Sharon Chin. It is one of 10 community-driven arts projects featured in this year's Singapore Biennale, which is focused on South-East Asian art.

The flower bath item saw participants meeting at the Singapore Art Museum to collect flowers and herbs for the bath, before crossing over to the National Museum to sit in tubs, pour water on themselves and others and even whip off their sarongs at the end of the performance piece.

Participant Nur Sue'Aldah, 19, an art student, called it "a once-in-a-lifetime experience".

"Mandi Bunga is traditionally a cleansing ritual bath. It was amazing to see how the artist got us all to connect with each other through such a simple ritual," she said.

The Biennale is Singapore's biggest contemporary art event. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

New Express runs front-page apology


BEIJING: A Chinese newspaper issued a front-page apology recanting its bold defence of an employee arrested after reporting on a company's "financial problems", adding another twist to the high-profile media controversy.

The statement was the latest public disavowal of the journalist Chen Yongzhou – despite initial public sympathy after his detention and open support by his employer, the New Express, in a rare act of defiance against powerful state censors.

"This newspaper was not strict enough about thoroughly fact-checking the draft of the report," it said in a small announcement on a bottom corner of its front page.

"After the incident occurred the newspaper took inappropriate measures, seriously harming the public trust of the media."

The paper, which is based in the southern city of Guangzhou, promised to "make serious corrections" and better ensure that its reporters and editors "comply with professional journalistic ethics and regulations".

The statement came a day after Chen appeared on state television in a green prison uniform to "confess" after being arrested more than a week earlier on "suspicion of damaging business reputation".

He had written 15 articles accusing the engineering giant Zoomlion of "financial problems", including inflating its profits.

Zoomlion is about 20% owned by the state and is listed on the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock exchanges with a total market capitalisation of more than US$8bil (RM25bil).

The official news agency Xinhua said on Saturday that Chen had admitted to "having released unverified and untrue stories about a company for money and fame", and that he had acted "at the request of others".

"I did this mainly because I hankered after money and fame. I've been used. I've realised my wrongdoing," Xinhua quoted him as saying.

The All-China Journalists Association also issued a statement on Saturday criticising Chen's actions and saying that the New Express "seriously neglected its professional duties".

The apology by New Express, a tabloid, starkly contrasted its initial reaction – a full-page editorial printed days after Chen's detention with the front-page headline "Please release our man" in large print.

The arrest had initially elicited public support, with one well-known government researcher, Yu Jianrong, criticising the detention as an "abuse of public power". — AFP

North Korea flexing its nuke muscles


SEOUL: If the international community's main goal is to push North Korea towards denuclearisation, does the fact that Pyongyang is racing in precisely the opposite direction suggest a fundamental policy failure?

The question has taken on added urgency following a succession of monthly warnings sounded by satellite imagery analysis that the North's nuclear weapons programme is gathering pace.

In August, images suggested the North had doubled its uranium enrichment capacity at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

In September, they indicated it had restarted the plutonium reactor that provided the fissile material for at least two of its three nuclear tests, and just last week they pointed to preparatory work for another detonation at its nuclear test site.

"Pyongyang is moving ahead on all nuclear fronts," believes US nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, a leading expert on the North's weapons programme.

Since coming to power in late 2011 following the death of his father, North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un has overseen a successful long-range rocket launch and the North's third – and largest – nuclear test.

"Denuclearisation must remain the goal, but it is a more distant one following these new developments," Hecker wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

If there is clear agreement on where the North is heading, there is little consensus on how best to stop it getting there.

The key question for the international community is the same as it has always been – whether to engage with Pyongyang or not.

Both North Korea and its main ally China want a return to six-party talks grouping China, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Washington and Seoul are adamant that Pyongyang must first demonstrate a commitment to denuc­learisation, but the North has repeatedly stated it has no intention of abandoning its weapons programme.

The result is almost total impasse at a time when the North is making possibly its greatest strides towards achieving a credible nuclear deterrent.

"There is no diplomatic mechanism in place that offers any prospect for slowing or stopping the North's WMD programmes," former senior US State Department official Evans Revere said in a paper published this month by the Washington-based think-tank Brookings Insti­tution.

"The road to further development of these programmes by North Korea is now wide open, and Pyongyang is taking it," Revere said.

Supporters of the principle of no substantive dialogue without prior progress on denuclearisation ar­gue that to do otherwise would be tantamount to accepting Pyong­yang's recent progress towards nuclear statehood.

"Returning to talks now... would allow North Korea to have reset the table for negotiations in a way that undercuts the goals of North Korean nuclear disarmament," said Paul Haenle, a former US representative at the six-party dialogue.

At the same time, Haenle, now the director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, noted that dialogue with Pyongyang in the past at least had the merit of slowing the North's weaponisation programme down.

Since the last six-party talks in December 2008 the brakes have clearly been taken off, with the North conducting two nuclear tests, revealing a uranium enrichment facility and putting a satellite in orbit with a launch widely seen as a ballistic missile test.

International sanctions have been expanded but, despite increased cooperation from China, they still lack the intensity to present Pyong­yang with a choice between nuclear weapons and economic survival.

Barring a sudden implosion of the regime, Revere believes talks are the only real option – and at the very highest level.

"If the goal is to convince North Korea to implement its denuclearisation commitments, nothing short of a dialogue with the North's leader or his inner circle is likely to achieve this," he said. — AFP

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