- Obama to tour Japan, S. Korea, Malaysia, Philippines in April
- Hefty fine for killing great white shark in Australia
- China's Jade Rabbit rover comes 'back to life'
Posted: 12 Feb 2014 05:55 PM PST
WASHINGTON, Feb 12, 2014 (AFP) - President Barack Obama will seek to ease questions over the staying power of his strategic shift to increasingly tense East Asia in April with stops in Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea.
Obama's visits to Manila and Kuala Lumpur are intended to make up for his no-show when he cancelled a previous Asia tour in October amid domestic political strife in Washington.
A subtext to his visit will be rising territorial tensions between several US allies and China, which deepened over Beijing's recent declaration of an "air defense identification zone" in the East China Sea.
Beijing was also angered last week when Washington stiffened its line on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, calling for it to adjust or clarify its claims.
Obama's stops in Japan and South Korea will also bolster close US alliances, at a time of aggravated political tensions between its two Northeast Asian friends.
It was an open secret that Obama would call in Japan in April, to take up an invitation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office in December 2012.
But the decision to add South Korea to the trip came after rising pressure from Seoul and from the Asia policy community in Washington.
The move also reflects a desire to signal to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un that there are no gaps in US and South Korean resolve to counter Pyongyang's nuclear program and belligerent rhetoric.
It also indicates that Obama is keen to avoid dealing a political slight to South Korean President Park Geun-Hye that could result from a presidential visit to Tokyo and not one to Seoul.
Relations between the two nations were severely rattled by Abe's December visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war criminals among Japan's war dead.
Obama's Asia itinerary also includes one noticeable exception - a stop in China. But he is expected to return to the region later in the year for regional summits in Australia, Beijing and Myanmar.
The White House said in a statement that Obama's April trip will highlight his "ongoing commitment to increase US diplomatic, economic and security engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region."
He is certain to try to push negotiations on a vast Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact that would include 12 nations, and is seen by some observers as an attempt to meet the economic challenge of a rising China.
The president however may encounter some skepticism from regional partners because Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, a key Obama ally, has expressed skepticism about granting him expanded powers to negotiate trade deals.
In light of Reid's remarks, Pacific Rim nations may be loath to make concessions in the trade talks, fearing that any deal agreed may be modified by the US Congress.
Obama will stop first in Japan where he will meet Abe. Then he will travel to Seoul for talks with Park, likely to be dominated by North Korea's latest maneuvering on the divided peninsula.
Pyongyang is currently fuming at the prospect of annual US-South Korean military exercises starting later this month and that it views as an act of war.
From Seoul, Obama will head to Malaysia to meet Prime Minister Najib Razak to discuss deepening defense and military ties.
Obama's final stop will be Manila, where he will meet President Benigno Aquino and discuss evolving military relations designed to include rotations of US troops in the country.
The White House did not give exact dates for the trip, other than saying it would take place in late April.
Obama has declared he is America's first "Pacific President" and announced a rebalancing of military and strategic resources to the dynamic, fast-growing region.
But the cancellation of his trip last year, and the departure from his administration of big political hitters committed to the Asia pivot like former secretaries of state and defense Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, have prompted some concern in the region over US staying power. - AFP
Posted: 12 Feb 2014 06:06 PM PST
SYDNEY, Feb 13, 2014 (AFP) - An Australian man has been fined Aus$18,000 (US$16,000) for killing a juvenile great white shark by ramming it with his boat then beating it to death with a metal pole, officials said Thursday.
Great whites are a protected species in Australia and it is illegal to catch, keep, buy, sell, possess or harm them.
The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries took action against the man, identified in media reports as Justin Clark, 40, after witnesses told fisheries officers he used his boat to herd the shark into shallow water in Sussex Inlet, south of Sydney, in January 2012.
Wollongong Local Court heard that he deliberately used his boat to ram the shark several times, with its main injuries caused by the propeller.
A rope was tied to the shark's tail and it was towed back to a boat ramp, where the department said it was beaten to death with a metal pole.
Clark was fined a total of Aus$18,103, with Department of Primary Industries director of fisheries compliance Glenn Tritton saying it was a warning to others.
"This conviction sends a strong message that harming of our threatened species will not be tolerated - everyone needs to know the rules and ignorance is no excuse," he said.
"Great white sharks are found along the NSW coastline and as apex predators at the top of the food chain, they play an important role in marine ecosystems."
Sharks are common in Australian waters, although they rarely prove fatal to humans, with only one of the average 15 attacks a year typically resulting in death.
In recent weeks, thousands of people have rallied around the country in protest at a controversial shark culling policy in Western Australia.
It allows sharks longer than three metres (10 feet) caught on bait lines off popular west coast beaches to be killed after six fatal attacks in the past two years.
The policy is designed to reduce risks to water users but has angered conservationists, who claim it flies in the face of international obligations to protect the great white.
Posted: 12 Feb 2014 03:57 PM PST
BEIJING (AFP) - China's troubled Jade Rabbit lunar rover, which experienced mechanical difficulties last month, has come "back to life", state media reported Thursday.
"It came back to life! At least it is alive and so it is possible we could save it," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Pei Zhaoyu, spokesman for the lunar programme, as saying on a verified account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
The probe, named Yutu or Jade Rabbit after the pet of Chang'e, the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology, had experienced a "mechanical control abnormality" last month, provoking an outpouring of sympathy from weibo users.
Concerns were raised that the vehicle would not survive the bitter cold of the lunar night.
"The Jade Rabbit went into sleep under an abnormal status," Pei said according to Xinhua. "We initially worried that it might not be able to bear the extremely low temperatures during the lunar night."
An unverified weibo user "Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover", which has posted first-person accounts in the voice of the probe, made its first update since January, when it had declared: "Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humans."
"Hi, anybody there?" it said Thursday, prompting thousands of comments within minutes.
The Jade Rabbit was deployed on the moon's surface on December 15, several hours after the Chang'e-3 probe landed.
The landing - the third such soft-landing in history, and the first of its kind since the Soviet Union's mission nearly four decades ago - was a huge source of pride in China, where millions across the country charted the rover's accomplishments.
The central government said the mission was "a milestone in the development of China's aerospace industry under the leadership of... Comrade Xi Jinping".
China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover 'dead': media
BEIJING (AFP) - China's troubled Jade Rabbit lunar rover has died on the surface of the moon, state media reported Wednesday, in a major setback for the country's ambitious space programme just weeks after its much-celebrated soft landing.
The country's first moon rover "could not be restored to full function on Monday as expected", the state-run China News Service said in a brief report, after the landmark mission suffered a mechanical malfunction last month.
The Jade Rabbit, or Yutu in Chinese, was deployed on the moon's surface on December 15 after the first lunar soft landing in nearly four decades and was seen as a symbol of China's rising global stature and technological advancement.
China is only the third country to complete a lunar rover mission after the United States and the former Soviet Union and the landing was a key step forward in Beijing's ambitious military-run space programme.
The silver rover experienced a "mechanical control abnormality" late January due to "the complicated lunar surface environment", according to the official Xinhua news agency, and was reportedly unable to function since then.
The rover - named Jade Rabbit after the pet of Chang'e, the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology - was designed to spend about three months exploring for natural resources on the moon.
Condolences poured in on Weibo, China's hugely-popular Twitter-like service, China News Service said in its brief report titled "Loss of lunar rover".
Chinese state-run media have hailed the mission as a technological triumph and a symbol of national pride while millions across the country have been charting the rover's accomplishments.
The news of its landing - the first of its kind since the former Soviet Union's mission in 1976 - topped the list of searched items on popular Internet message boards.
And when state media broke the news of its troubles last month, web users flooded social media networks with condolence messages.
The Jade Rabbit rover had sent back its first pictures from the moon hours after it was deployed, as officials lauded the soft landing as a giant leap for "mankind as a whole".
The colour images showing the Chinese national flag on the rover were transmitted live to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, where President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang watched the broadcast.
Images released by Xinhua also showed the lander, covered in golden foil, standing in the Sinus Iridum or Bay of Rainbows, its solar panels open to generate power.
The lunar mission came a decade after China first sent an astronaut into space and was seen as a symbol of the ruling Communist Party's success in reversing the fortunes of the once-impoverished nation.
"Exploration of outer space is an unremitting pursuit of mankind," China's space agency, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), said after the rover was deployed.
The mission reflects "the new glory of China to scale the peaks in world science and technology areas," it said.
The potential to extract the moon's resources has been touted as a key reason behind Beijing's space programme, with the moon believed to hold uranium, titanium, and other mineral resources, as well as offering the possibility of solar power generation.
But the phenomenal cost of missions means such projects are not economically viable, experts say.
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