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Asia-Pacific News

Japan’s likely next PM cooler on US ties

Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's likely next prime minister after yesterday's elections, believes his country should shift its foreign policy and look less to the United States and more towards Asia.
A centre-left leader who has promised to shake up domestic politics after more than half a century of conservative rule, Hatoyama has also called for a "more equal" partnership with Washington, Tokyo's traditional ally.
In an article published in The New York Times last week, Hatoyama launched a spirited critique of US-style capitalism and "market fundamentalism", which he called "void of morals or moderation" and said harmed people's lives.
Not mincing his words, he predicted that "as a result of the failure of the Iraq war and the financial crisis, the era of US-led globalism is coming to an end and that we are moving toward an era of multi-polarity."
Hatoyama, head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), stressed that "the Japan-US security pact will continue to be the cornerstone of Japanese diplomatic policy", just as it has been since the end of World War II.
"But at the same time, we must not forget our identity as a nation located in Asia," he wrote. "I believe that the East Asian region, which is showing increasing vitality, must be recognised as Japan’s basic sphere of being."
Hatoyama pointed to the fast rise of China, set to eclipse Japan as the world's number two economy, and called for the creation of an Asian community with a common currency based on the model of the European Union.
For now, he said, the US dollar remains the world currency, but he hinted at a looming decline of Washington's influence, saying only "it will remain the world’s leading military and economic power for the next two to three decades."
For years in opposition, the DPJ – which includes ruling party defectors and former socialists in its mixed ranks – opposed Japan's joining "American wars" and called for a reduction of US bases on its territory.
The DPJ has also said it would not renew a naval mission that has supported the US-led war in Afghanistan when its current mandate expires next year, although it welcomed the election of President Barack Obama and pointed to similarities between their Democratic parties.
 If and when the DPJ takes power, observers say it is unlikely to quickly or radically shift foreign policy, despite the campaign-season rhetoric, opting instead for a pragmatic approach.


East Timor: 10th anniversary since historic vote

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by Matt Crook

East Timor celebrated yesterday the 10th anniversary of the UN-backed vote that ended a bloody 24-year occupation by Indonesian forces and ushered in the birth of Asia's youngest nation.
Artists from each of the half-island's 13 districts were to perform at the official ceremony, as well as Indonesian pop singer Krisdayanti – testament to the enduring cultural influence of East Timor's massive neighbour.
The 1999 referendum saw 78.5 percent of East Timorese vote in favour of splitting from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975. Just 21.5 percent supported autonomy.
Elation however soon turned to terror as the Indonesian Army and its proxy militias went on a rampage, destroying infrastructure and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to other parts of Indonesia.
Around 1,400 people were killed by the time Australian-led United Nations peacekeepers restored order, ending an occupation that is estimated to have claimed around 100,000 lives through fighting, disease and starvation.
Ten years later, residents of the mainly Catholic country of 1.1 million people expressed mixed feelings of pride and uncertainty about the future.
"Maybe parts of society have changed, but there's still plenty of unemployment here," said Satonino Goncalves, a 45-year-old who supports eight children by selling firewood and fruit.
East Timor formally became independent in 2002 but its people remain among the world's poorest, with 40 percent of the population earning less than one dollar a day, despite vast offshore gas wealth.
Unemployment in 2004 was estimated at 23 percent and youth unemployment at 40 percent, according to the World Bank. About 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and life expectancy hovers around 60 years.
The problems run deep despite 5.2 billion dollars in spending by bilateral and multilateral foreign aid agencies between 1999 and 2009, according to the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis.
It said that of the total aid injection, only about 10 percent had actually entered East Timor's economy, with the bulk going to international salaries, overseas procurement, imported supplies, consultants and the like.
The international effort has been hampered by political instability and spasms of internecine violence.
Fighting among police, soldiers and street gangs in 2006 killed 37 people, displaced 100,000 and required the return of UN peacekeepers.
A presidential election in May, 2007 was hailed as a success, but in February the following year the country was again in turmoil when rebel soldiers gunned down President Jose Ramos-Horta.
The bullet-riddled Nobel Peace laureate required emergency surgery in Australia. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was also targeted but was unscathed.
The assassination attempt highlighted another troubling aspect of East Timor's independence – a culture of impunity for major crimes and human rights abuses.
Rebel leader Alfredo Reinado was killed in the attack, but Ramos-Horta has said he will pardon Reinado's followers after the conclusion of their ongoing trials.
In the interests of good relations with Jakarta, he has also rejected demands for an international tribunal to try Indonesian generals and militia leaders indicted by the UN for crimes against humanity.
Speaking to AFP on Friday, he said his country was not a place to "experiment with international justice".
This is fine with Indonesia.
"We are becoming more mature in our relationship. We have left the past, what has happened, in history," Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said.