- Japan's Abe turns to South East Asia to counter China
- Two dead, one wounded in shooting at Kentucky college
- Japanese airlines ground Boeing 787s after emergency landing
Posted: 15 Jan 2013 07:58 PM PST
TOKYO/JAKARTA (Reuters) - The last time he was prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe's inaugural foreign trip was to China. In the job again 7 years later and relations with Beijing now chilly, Abe is turning first this time to the rising economic stars of Southeast Asia.
A hawkish Abe wants them to help counterbalance the growing economic and military might of China at a time when Japan needs new sources of growth for its languishing economy and is debating whether to make its own military more muscular.
But experts warn he will have to tread carefully during his visit to Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam this week to avoid provoking Beijing by appearing to "contain" China.
Beijing is also scouring the region in search of new investment and trade opportunities and sources of raw materials. But it is also clashing with countries in the region over territorial rows in the South China Sea, as well as with Japan over tiny isles in the East China Sea.
Moreover, Abe may find his hosts keen to avoid upsetting China, now their major economic partner as well.
"The Japanese government is trying to solidify its relations with other countries in the region and strengthen its bargaining power before talking to China," said Narushige Michishita, an associate professor at the National Graduate Institute.
Abe had hoped to go first to Washington this time after his Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) big win at the polls last month, in order to bolster the security alliance with his country's main ally. But because U.S. President Barack Obama was too busy, he will start with members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Japanese firms are already eyeing Southeast Asia as an alternative to investment in China after a long-simmering feud with Beijing over disputed islands in the East China Sea flared up last year, sparking protests in China and hurting trade.
Abe has made clear that ASEAN's planned integration in 2015, creating a bloc with combined economies worth $2 trillion (1.2 trillion pounds) and a population of 600 million, is a significant lure for a Japanese economy that has been trapped in deflation for decades and whose population is ageing fast and shrinking.
He also says, however, that he wants to go beyond mere economic ties and expand relations in the security field. He is expected to give a policy speech in Jakarta.
In an echo of the push for a broader Asian "arc of freedom and prosperity" that underpinned Abe's foreign policy during his first term in office - which ended when he quit abruptly - the Japanese leader is also likely to refer to his desire for deeper ties with countries that share democratic and other values.
"Japan's path since the end of World War Two has been to firmly protect democracy and basic human rights and stress the rule of law," Abe told NHK public TV on Sunday. "I want to emphasise the importance of strengthening ties with countries that share such values."
One issue that could come up is a maritime "Code of Conduct" that the United States has urged China and its Southeast Asian neighbours to agree on as a step toward reducing tensions.
"Japan should play a more significant, responsible role not only for the prosperity but also stability in this part of the world, especially in its waters," said Kunihiko Miyake, a former diplomat close to Abe.
"Possibly we could work together with Southeast Asia in a possible broad, extended Code of Conduct in the waters to avoid unnecessary and unintended friction or disputes, "said Miyake, now research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies.
Abe has said repeatedly that he wants to improve ties with Beijing despite his tough stand over the islands dispute. But some warn his rhetoric could been seen as trying to box in China, provoking Beijing and worrying Southeast Asian countries whose economies are increasingly linked to China's.
"What is the point of making an enemy of China?," said Hitoshi Tanaka, a former diplomat who is now chairman of the Institute for International Strategy in Tokyo. "It is not smart diplomacy in my view and the last thing the nations named as targets of 'values diplomacy' would welcome."
Abe will need to reassure his hosts that he will not let the islands row with China get out of hand despite his hawkish security stance and his desire to revise Japan's take on its wartime history with a less apologetic tone.
"Prime Minister Abe might be seen as revisionist but this should not influence the dispute as all countries in the region would rather focus on economic development than see this conflict deteriorate," said Damrong Kraikuan, director-general of the Thai foreign ministry's East Asia Affairs Department.
"But the South China Sea will not be the highlight of his visit to Bangkok," he added. "Thailand will take note of what Japan has to say and we will listen, but we have to take other countries into consideration to make progress."
Japan's remains a huge economic influence in ASEAN. It is the group's biggest source of foreign direct investment, after the European Union and almost three times the size of China's.
"Japan is concerned about losing out to China in trade and investment," said Jayant Menon, lead economist at the Asian Development Bank's Office for Regional Economic Integration. "(The visit) sends an important message."
In Vietnam, Japan pledged investments of $4.9 billion in the first 10 months of last year, nearly double the whole of 2011. In Thailand, from January-September, foreign investment almost tripled to around $8.1 billion.
In the group's biggest economy, Indonesia, net direct investment last year looked to be heading for a record amount.
And Japan was ASEAN's second biggest trading partner in 2011, just behind China, according to the group's figures.
Abe's young government has already been pushing hard to improve relations in the region. He sent his foreign minister last week to Brunei, Singapore, Australia and the Philippines. Manila, for one, has welcomed signs of Japan's willingness to play a bigger regional security role.
Nevertheless, Abe will have to tread carefully on the topic of Japan's wartime aggression, which remains a sensitive issue.
His government has said it would stick by a landmark 1995 apology for Japan's wartime aggression.
But Abe also wants to issue a statement of his own and has expressed interest in revisiting a 1993 government statement apologising for military involvement in kidnapping Asian women to work in wartime military brothels.
"Everyone knows that if the new government were to change the basic line then Japan will be isolated in East Asia because China, Korea and even Southeast Asia will make lots of issues out of a change in interpretation (of the past)," Tanaka said.
(Additional reporting by Amy Lefevre in Bangkok, Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Rieka Rahadiana in Jakarta; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 15 Jan 2013 07:45 PM PST
LOUISVILLE, Ky (Reuters) - Two people were killed and a third wounded when gunfire broke out in the parking lot of a community college in the eastern Kentucky mountains, authorities said.
Two people were being held, including the alleged shooter who opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol on Tuesday afternoon at the Hazard Community and Technical College, about 90 miles (145 kms) southeast of Lexington, police said.
Hazard Police Chief Minor Allen told a news conference initial indications were that the shooting was a result of a domestic conflict and there were no signs anyone involved had any connections with the college.
The United States is still on edge about gun violence a month after a lone gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school in a rampage that stunned the nation and has fuelled a heated national debate over gun control.
Police described the dead in Hazard as a man in his 50s and a woman in her 20s to early 30s. A female in her teens was injured and taken to the University of Kentucky hospital in Lexington. The identities of the victims and those taken into custody were not being released, police said.
The college president, Steve Griner, told reporters that activities and classes for the school's 4,700 students were being cancelled on Wednesday because of the investigation.
The campus was placed under a security lockdown after the shooting, which was lifted later. Police searched campus buildings to ensure everyone was safe.
In a separate shooting in St. Louis, Missouri, a student armed with a pistol opened fire at a downtown college before turning the gun on himself. A school employee struck by gunfire in that shooting was expected to survive, as was the armed student, police said.
(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman.; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 15 Jan 2013 07:01 PM PST
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's two leading airlines grounded their fleets of Boeing 787s on Wednesday after one of the Dreamliner passenger jets made an emergency landing, heightening safety concerns over a plane many see as the future of commercial aviation.
All Nippon Airways Co said it was grounding all 17 of its 787s and Japan Airlines Co said it suspended all 787 flights scheduled for Wednesday. ANA said its planes could be back in the air as soon as Thursday once checks were completed. The two carriers operate around half of the 50 Dreamliners delivered by Boeing to date.
Wednesday's incident follows a series of mishaps for the new Dreamliner. The sophisticated plane, the world's first mainly carbon-composite airliner, has suffered fuel leaks, a battery fire, wiring problem, brake computer glitch and cracked cockpit window in recent days.
"I think you're nearing the tipping point where they need to regard this as a serious crisis," said Richard Aboulafia, a senior analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. "This is going to change people's perception of the aircraft if they don't act quickly."
The 787 represented a leap in the way planes are designed and built, but the project was plagued by cost overruns and years of delays. Some have suggested Boeing's rush to get planes built after those delays resulted in the recent problems, a charge the company strenuously denies.
Both the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said they were monitoring the latest Dreamliner incident as part of a comprehensive review of the aircraft announced late last week.
ANA flight 692 left Yamaguchi Airport in western Japan shortly after 8 a.m. local time (11:00 p.m. British time Tuesday) bound for Haneda Airport near Tokyo, a 65-minute flight. About 18 minutes into the flight, at 30,000 feet, the plane began a descent. It descended to 20,000 feet in about four minutes and made an emergency landing 16 minutes later, according to flight-tracking website Flightaware.com.
A spokesman for Osaka airport authority said the plane landed in Takamatsu at 8:45 a.m. All 129 passengers and eight crew evacuated safely via the plane's inflatable chutes. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said 5 people were slightly injured.
At a news conference - where ANA's vice-president Osamu Shinobe bowed deeply in apology - the carrier said instruments on the flight indicated a battery error, triggering emergency warnings to the pilots. It said the battery in the forward cargo hold was the same type as one involved in a fire on another Dreamliner at a U.S. airport last week.
"There was a battery alert in the cockpit and there was an odd smell detected in the cockpit and cabin, and (the pilot) decided to make an emergency landing," Shinobe said.
Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman, told Reuters: "We've seen the reports, we're aware of the events and are working with our customer."
The Teal Group's Aboulafi said regulators could ground all 50 of the 787 planes now in service, while airlines may make the decision themselves. "They may want to protect their own brand images," he said.
Australia's Qantas Airways said its order for 15 Dreamliners remained on track, and its Jetstar subsidiary was due to take delivery of the first of the aircraft in the second half of this year. Qantas declined to comment further on the issues that have plagued the new lightweight, fuel-efficient aircraft.
India's aviation regulator said it was reviewing the Dreamliner's safety and would talk to parts makers, but had no plans to ground the planes. State-owned Air India has six of the aircraft in service and more on order.
"We are not having any problem with our Dreamliners. The problems we had earlier were fixed," Arun Mishra, Director General of Civil Aviation, told Reuters. "We are reviewing the situation now."
United Airlines, the only U.S. carrier currently flying the 787, said it was not taking any immediate action in response to the latest incident. "We are looking at what is happening with ANA and we will have more information tomorrow," a spokeswoman said.
Shares of Dreamliner suppliers in Japan came under pressure.
GS Yuasa Corp - which makes the plane's batteries - fell 4.5 percent, as did Toray Industries Inc, which supplies carbon fibre used in the plane's composites. Fuji Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and IHI slid 2.5-3 percent on a benchmark Nikkei that was 2 percent lower. ANA shares slipped 1 percent.
Japan's transport minister on Tuesday acknowledged that passenger confidence in the Dreamliner was at stake, as both Japan and the United States have opened broad and open-ended investigations into the plane after the recent incidents.
The 787 is Boeing's first new jet in more than a decade, and the company's financial fortunes are largely tied to its success. The plane offers airlines unprecedented fuel economy, but the huge investment to develop it coupled with years of delay in delivery has caused headaches for customers, hurt Boeing financially and created a delivery bottleneck.
Boeing has said it will at least break even on the cost of building the 1,100 new 787s it expects to deliver over the next decade. Some analysts, however, say Boeing may never make money from the plane, given its enormous development cost.
Any additional cost from fixing problems discovered by the string of recent incidents would affect those forecasts, and could hit Boeing's bottom line more quickly if it has to stop delivering planes, analysts said.
To date it has sold close to 850 of the planes to airlines around the world.
(Additional reporting by Olivier Fabre, Kentaro Sugiyama, Mari Saito, Deborah Charles and Alwyn Scott; Writing by Ian Geoghegan; Editing by Paul Tait and Alex Richardson)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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