Isnin, 7 April 2014

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

ICA working on portable device to verify passports of ship passengers

Posted: 07 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

THE Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA) is working on a portable electronic device which could be used to check the passports of ship passengers and make the current system more efficient.

The present clearance-on-board system involves ICA officers physically checking cruise passengers' documents on the ship before they reach Singapore Cruise Centre or Marina Bay Cruise Centre, where passports are then checked electronically.

Tentatively named the Relocatable Clearance System, the machine is in the prototype stage.

If successful, it would be able to wirelessly verify the authenticity and validity of a passport against an electronic database, which can currently be done only at the various land, sea and air checkpoints.

An ICA spokesman said: "We break down immigration clearance into various portions and what we can do on board will speed up the process of certain functions."

The authority is working on ensuring that the device will be able to communicate reliably with its central database, and that encryption of sensitive, personal information will be robust enough to prevent information theft.

The ICA is also looking at extending automated clearance to cruise passengers on ships that dock here overnight or longer.

Currently, only residents and pass holders can use the automated system which lets them get on and off the ship, while foreign passengers use manned checkpoints.

The Singapore Tourism Board is trying to grow the market of visitors on "floating hotels" and its director of cruise Annie Chang said: "With our city's plethora of lifestyle and leisure options, visitors can have exciting, multiple-day shore excursions whenever cruise ships dock here."

A handful of luxury liners operated by Celebrity Cruises and Crystal Cruises already stay here overnight. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Australia defends security deal with Japan

Posted: 07 Apr 2014 10:23 PM PDT

SYDNEY, April 08, 2014 (AFP) - Closer defence ties between Japan and Australia should not raise concerns in regional superpower China, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Tuesday, after sealing a major free trade and security deal with Tokyo.

Canberra and Tokyo struck the agreement Monday to enhance trade and security ties, including joint development of defence equipment, elevating the bilateral relationship to a new level.

Abbott told national radio in Australia that he was taking no side in territorial disputes between China and other nations, and the growing relationship with Japan did not target anyone else.

"It's not against any specific country and as far as I am concerned - as far as just about every country is concerned - what we want to see is more democracy, more freedom, more respect for the rule of law," he said when asked about China.

"We say there should be no change to the status quo, which is brought about by force or by the threat of force," he said.

Abbott noted there was already a high degree of defence cooperation between Australia and Japan, which is embroiled in territorial disputes with China.

Australian and Japanese defence forces hold exercises together and Japan has previously purchased some Australian defence equipment, including Bushmaster armoured infantry transport vehicles, he said.

"We want to see more inter-operability between our militaries, we want to see more exercises between our militaries, we want to see over time more significant intelligence co-operation," the prime minister told ABC.

On Tuesday Australia was also set to sign a free trade pact with South Korea following four years of negotiations. After Seoul, Abbott will head to China on Wednesday. 

Long-awaited trade deal

Monday's agreement to boost security cooperation came after Japan last week loosened a self-imposed ban on weapons exports in a move which unnerved China.

Japan and Australia announced Monday a "substantive agreement" on a long-awaited free-trade deal, in a rare opening of Japan's protected markets.

In Tokyo, Abbott said it was the first time Japan had negotiated a comprehensive economic partnership agreement or free trade deal with a major economy.

He said the deal marked "truly an historic occasion for both of our countries", with the security deal including joint development of defence equipment.

In Japan, the mass-selling Yomiuri Shimbun welcomed the security deal, saying it would dovetail well with the recent relaxation of strict rules banning arms exports and "would lead to progress in defence technology and the curbing of development costs".

It made no specific reference to tensions between Tokyo and Beijing, which have been high for almost two years, but said "the agreement between... two allies of the United States will contribute to the stability of the Asia Pacific region as a whole".

Australian media hailed the overall agreement as a trade breakthrough, but some highlighted the sensitivities involved in defence matters.

The Australian Financial Review noted that the defence deal had been embarked on "under the radar of a trade deal".

"Closer security ties have been the real growth area in the relationship during the long seven years of trade negotiations," the daily noted.

Peter Hartcher writing in the Sydney Morning Herald said China's assertiveness was driving US allies in the region nearer to Washington and to each other.

"Even on a trip where Abbott visits China, he is working with the other two nations on his itinerary in a search for a common security against the rising China risk. It's a jungle out there."

Myanmar loans ancient treasures to New York

Posted: 07 Apr 2014 08:40 PM PDT

New York (AFP) - A landmark exhibition opens in New York next week exploring the ancient kingdoms of Southeast Asia and introducing to the outside world the first treasures from Myanmar seen abroad.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art spent five years preparing the exhibition of Hindu-Buddhist sculptures from a region and ancient culture little known in the United States.

It features 160 stone, terracotta and bronze sculptures of which 22 are from Myanmar, the first pieces of art loaned by Yangon after emerging from decades of international isolation.

The rest from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Britain, France and elsewhere in the United States complete an exhibition that only the vast resources of the Metropolitan could pull off.

"Most of these powerful works of art have rarely if ever been on view outside their home countries," said the Met's British director Thomas Campbell.

"We are especially honored that the government of Myanmar has signed its first-ever international loan agreement in order to lend their national treasures to this exhibition."

The beautifully presented and painstakingly curated "Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia 5th to 8th Century," opens next Monday and runs until July 27.

The museum hopes that it will attract culture vultures keen to bone up on a little-known field, and backpackers and gap-year students who have enjoyed the beaches of Thailand and Vietnam.

Ganesha from Vietnam form part of the exhibit "Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century," on display on April 7, 2014 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Around 6.2 million people visited the Met in each of the last two years, a new audience for these ancient treasures and for Myanmar, which only emerged from international sanctions in 2012.

Curator John Guy said Southeast Asia was dismissed by ancient geographers as "that place beyond India and before China," but produced some of the greatest Hindu and Buddhist art to survive.

The exhibition tracks the period when both faiths took root in the region from India, absorbed into local belief systems and giving rise to the nation states of today.

-'An enormous act of faith'-

It took two years -- a "long and rigorous process" -- to negotiate the loans from all the countries, Guy told AFP.

The entrance of the exhibit "Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, April 7, 2014

"Myanmar is new at this and I have to say they behaved in an extraordinarily professional manner," he added.

Before coming to New York, some objects had traveled only once: by cart from the ancient city of Sri Ksetra where they were excavated in 1924-26 to the local museum.

As in the case of several other countries, cabinet-level approval was required.

"It's appropriate," Guy said.

"We're asking to borrow their national treasures and bring them half way around the world. This is an enormous act of faith on their part."

Southeast Asian countries are emerging economies and Myanmar has embarked upon wide-ranging reforms since turning the page on five decades of junta rule that kept the country impoverished.

Guy said the region could expect spin-off benefits such as enhanced tourism and cultural cooperation.

When the exhibits return to Myanmar in August, for example, two conservators will go to work on objects that in the end were deemed too fragile to travel to New York.

"As important as the exhibition is, we would never put a single object at risk," said Guy, an expert with 20 years' experience and contacts in the region.

While many of the masterpieces come from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, the standout contribution from Myanmar is a sixth century sandstone slab that covered a relic chamber in Sri Ksetra.

Guy described it as an "extraordinary object, beautiful in its own right and the way it functioned, offering almost magical protection to the chamber, makes it a very potent object."


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