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VOI, Jakarta - Myanmar should cooperate with China to maintain stability on their common border, a Chinese official said on Monday, after a surge of fighting in Myanmar between junta forces and insurgents rocked the region.

Last week, Myanmar's ruling military said it was trying to restore order near the border after an alliance of ethnic minority armies battling for self-determination launched a series of coordinated attacks on junta targets.

"Myanmar is called on to cooperate with China to maintain stability along the China-Myanmar border, earnestly ensure the safety of the lives and property of Chinese border residents, and take effective measures to strengthen the security of Chinese personnel," said Nong Rong, assistant Chinese foreign minister.

A spokesperson for Myanmar's ruling military was not immediately available for comment.

The Asia Times news site reported that one Chinese citizen was killed and several were wounded on Saturday when a shell fired by the Myanmar military over-shot its target and struck on the Chinese side of the border.

Nong, who visited Myanmar on Nov. 3-5, said China hoped Myanmar would restore stability, and it supported all parties to properly handle differences and achieve reconciliation through dialogue as soon as possible.

Thailand is trying to bring home 162 of its nationals trapped by the fighting in Myanmar.

Myanmar has been in chaos since a military coup in February 2021 unseated a democratically elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. (Reuters)



VOI, Jakarta - The United States, South Korea and Japan have agreed to launch a high-level consultative group on countering North Korean cyber activities that they say finance its unlawful weapons programs, South Korea's presidential office said on Monday.

Anne Neuberger, U.S. deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, held talks with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Washington last week. They agreed to hold quarterly meetings under the new framework, the presidential office said.

"It is aimed at strengthening the three countries' effective response capabilities against global cyber threats, including jointly countering North Korea's cyber activities that are abused as a key source funding its nuclear and WMD programs," the office said in a statement.

The announcement comes after the leaders of the three countries agreed at a summit in August at Camp David that they would establish a new trilateral working group for the North's cyber threats.

Sanctions monitors have accused North Korea of using cyberattacks to gather funds for its nuclear and missile programs, and a United Nations report said the North stepped up its cryptocurrency theft last year, using sophisticated techniques to steal more in 2022 than any other year.

North Korea has denied allegations of hacking or other cyberattacks. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - Thailand's inflation rate fell for the first time in 25 months, thanks to falling energy prices due to government support measures and lower food prices, the commerce ministry said on Monday.


Thailand's consumer price index (CPI) (THCPI=ECI) fell 0.31% in October from a year earlier, versus a 0.3% year-on-year rise in the previous month, according to data.


The figure compared with a forecast for 0.0% for October in a Reuters poll. The core CPI (THCPIX=ECI) was up 0.66% year-on-year in October.


Headline inflation has been below the central bank's target of 1% to 3% for the sixth consecutive month.


In the January-October period, the headline CPI rose an average 1.60% from the same period a year earlier, with the core CPI up 1.41%.


The ministry still sees headline inflation at 1.0% to 1.7% this year.


In September, the Bank of Thailand's monetary policy committee unexpectedly raised the key interest rate (THCBIR=ECI) by a quarter point to 2.50%, the highest in a decade, saying growth and inflation should pick up next year. It will next review policy on Nov. 29. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Sunday strongly condemned the killing of a Filipino journalist and ordered the police to conduct an investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.


The journalist, Juan Jumalon, also known as "DJ Johnny Walker", was shot by unidentified assailants while broadcasting from his home in a southern Philippine town on Sunday morning, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement, citing initial reports.


"Attacks on journalists will not be tolerated in our democracy, and those who threaten the freedom of the press will face the full consequences of their actions," Marcos said in a post on X platform.


Media watchdog NUJP also condemned the "brazen killing" which it said was caught on a livestream of Jumalon's show. Jumalon's home in Calamba, Misamis Occidental served as his radio station.


Jumalon's killing brings to four the number of journalists killed since Marcos took office in June 2022, and to 199 since democracy was restored in the Philippines in 1986. That figure included 32 killed in a single incident in 2009.


The Philippines has one of Asia's most liberal media environments, but it remains one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists, particularly in its provinces.


It ranked as the eighth worst country when it comes to prosecuting killers of journalists, according to 2023 Global Impunity Index released by the Committee to Protect Journalists released this week. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, starting the first visit to China by a leader of his country in seven years, said on Sunday it was "in all our interests" to have a bilateral relationship with dialogue and cooperation.


Australia will continue to work constructively with China, he said in a short speech to the annual China International Import Expo in Shanghai, which was opened by Premier Li Qiang.


Albanese is the first Australian leader to visit China since 2016, part of an effort to patch up relations that had deteriorated over several years due to disputes over Chinese telecoms firm Huawei, espionage and COVID-19.


After the speech, addressing media alongside Trade Minister Don Farrell, Albanese said he welcomed Li's comments at the Expo and described them as "very positive". Li said China will further expand market access and imports.


Farrell said after meeting with his Chinese counterpart on Saturday he expected impediments on Australian seafood and red meat products to be removed "in a very short space of time".


Albanese, in his speech, described the relationship between the two countries as "mature" and said it was "energised by the complementary nature of our economies".


"Along with the other economies in our region, Australia and China have prospered thanks to the certainty and stability that is made possible by rules-based trade," Albanese said, according to an official transcript.


Albanese's government has worked to stabilise ties with China since coming to office last year, and China has lifted most trade blocks imposed in a 2020 diplomatic dispute that cost A$20 billion in commodity and food exports.


"We continue to highly value the World Trade Organisation, whose role as an independent and respected umpire benefits us all," Albanese said, without directly mentioning any disputes.


Albanese, on Monday, will meet President Xi Jinping in Beijing, where the prime minister has said he will raise concerns over rising tensions in the South China Sea.


On arriving in Shanghai late on Saturday, Albanese said it was in Australia's interests to have a positive and constructive dialogue with its major trading partner.


Albanese said on Saturday, before leaving for China, that the much-anticipated visit to meet with Xi and Li marked a "very positive step" in stabilising strained bilateral ties. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - Israel said it had surrounded the Gaza Strip's biggest city and the focus of its drive to annihilate Hamas, as the United States was set to press Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to pauses in fighting to allow aid into the Palestinian enclave.


With the conflict nearing the end of its fourth week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to visit Israel for the second time in a month to meet Netanyahu as Israel's military battled Hamas militants, who fought back with hit-and-run attacks from underground tunnels.


"We're at the height of the battle. We've had impressive successes and have passed the outskirts of Gaza City. We are advancing," Netanyahu said in a statement after the military said it had encircled the seaside enclave's main city.


As Blinken left Washington for the Middle East, he said he would discuss concrete steps to minimise harm to civilians in Gaza. The White House, meanwhile, said any pauses in fighting should be temporary and localised, and insisted they would not stop Israel defending itself.


Mounting casualties among Palestinian civilians, along with acute shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel, have intensified calls by global leaders for a pause in fighting or a ceasefire.


Israel has dismissed those calls, saying it targets Hamas fighters whom it accuses of intentionally hiding among the population and civilian buildings. The White House has also rejected calls for a ceasefire.


Gaza health authorities say at least 9,061 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its assault on the enclave of 2.3 million people in retaliation for deadly attacks by Hamas militants on southern Israel.


A group of independent United Nations experts warned that Palestinians in Gaza are at "grave risk of genocide".


"We call on Israel and its allies to agree to an immediate ceasefire. We are running out of time," the group of U.N. special rapporteurs said in a statement.


The Israeli mission to the U.N. in Geneva called the rapporteur's comments "deplorable and deeply concerning" and blamed Hamas for the civilian deaths. Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said a determination of genocide could only be made by a relevant U.N. judicial body.


Israel says Hamas killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 240 hostages in the attacks on Oct. 7, the deadliest day of its 75-year-old history.


The White House said on Thursday it was looking into a series of pauses in the conflict.


"What we're trying to do is explore the idea of as many pauses as might be necessary to continue to get aid out and to continue to work to get people out safely, including hostages," U.S. national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.


Blinken also was due to meet Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman on Saturday. In a statement, Safadi said Israel must end the war on Gaza, where he said it was committing war crimes by bombing civilians and imposing a siege.


Gulf Arab power, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), warned on Friday that tension in the Middle East was "approaching a boiling point" and that it was working "relentlessly" to reach an immediate and full humanitarian ceasefire.


"The risk of regional spillover and further escalation is real, as well as the risk that extremist groups will take advantage of the situation to advance ideologies that will keep us locked in cycles of violence," Noura al-Kaabi, a minister of state for foreign affairs, told a conference in Abu Dhabi.



Amid heavy explosions in Gaza, Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters his country's "troops completed the encirclement of Gaza City, which is the focal point of the Hamas terror organization".


Brigadier General Iddo Mizrahi, chief of Israel's military engineers, said troops were encountering mines and booby traps.


"Hamas has learned and prepared itself well," he said.


Abu Ubaida, spokesperson for the armed wing of Hamas, said in a televised speech on Thursday that Israel's death toll in Gaza was much higher than the military had announced. "Your soldiers will return in black bags," he said.


Israel has said it has lost 18 soldiers and killed dozens of militants since ground operations expanded on Friday.


Hamas and allied Islamic Jihad fighters were emerging from tunnels to fire at tanks, then disappearing back into the network, residents said and videos from both groups showed.


Two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S was flying intelligence-gathering drones over Gaza to help locate hostages. One of the officials said they had been carrying out the drone flights for over a week.



The Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt was due to open for a third day on Friday for limited evacuations under a Qatari-brokered deal aimed at letting some foreign passport holders, their dependents and some wounded Gazans out of the enclave.


According to border officials, more than 700 foreign citizens left for Egypt via Rafah on the two previous days. Dozens of critically injured Palestinians were to cross too. Israel asked foreign countries to send hospital ships for them.


Thailand said it is in touch with Iran and other governments that can make contact with Hamas for the safe release of nearly two dozen Thai nationals being held hostage.


Thailand's Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said on Friday that Iran, which is close to Hamas, had promised to help with negotiations.


Over a third of Gaza's 35 hospitals are not functioning, with many turned into impromptu refugee camps.


"The situation is beyond catastrophic," said the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, describing packed corridors and many medics who were themselves bereaved and homeless. (Reuters)




VOINews, Jakarta - A collapse in the yen is forcing Japan to scale back a historic five-year, 43.5-trillion-yen defence build-up aimed at helping to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, according to eight people familiar with the matter.


Since the plan was unveiled in December, the yen has lost 10% of its value against the dollar, forcing Tokyo to reduce its ambitious defence procurement plan, which was then-calculated to cost $320 billion, the sources said.


Reuters interviewed three government officials with direct knowledge of defence procurement and five industry sources, who said Japan will begin cutting back on aircraft purchases in 2024, the second year of the build-up, due to the weak yen.


Details of how Japan is paring back military procurement due to currency fluctuations have not been previously reported. The eight people, who attended numerous meetings on the purchases, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to media.


Tokyo assumed an exchange rate of 108 yen to the dollar - a rate last traded at in summer 2021 - when it began formulating purchase plans in December, the eight people said. By early November, the currency dipped to 151 to the dollar. The Bank of Japan on Tuesday took a small step toward ending the decade-long monetary stimulus, which has driven yen depreciation, by tweaking bond yield controls.


Unlike large companies that do business overseas, Japan's defence ministry does not hedge against currency rate fluctuations, one of the government officials said, meaning it has few means to mitigate the rising cost in yen of Tomahawk cruise missiles and F-35 stealth fighters.


Any sign that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will get less bang than anticipated from his military spending binge could stir unease in Washington about its key ally's ability to help contain Beijing, said Christopher Johnstone, Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.


"For now, the impact is modest. But there is no question that a long-term depreciation of the yen would sap the impact of Japan's build-up, and force cuts and delays to key acquisitions," said Johnstone, a former National Security Council director for East Asia in the Biden administration.


Japan's Ministry of Defence said it does not discuss details of procurement planning when contacted for comment.


The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said it was unable to comment. The Pentagon did not immediately return a request for comment.



Kishida described Japan's biggest defence build-up since World War Two as a "turning point in history." The spending is meant gird the nation for possible conflict around its far-flung islands stretching along the edge of the East China Sea toward Taiwan, according to defence white papers. Tokyo also shares responsibility for protecting U.S. bases on its soil that Washington could use to launch counter strikes against Chinese forces attacking the self-governing democratic island.


In December, Kishida pledged to double annual defence outlays to 2% of gross domestic product. A move to transform the war-renouncing nation into potentially the world's third-biggest military spender was seen by analysts and lawmakers as improbable until two years ago.


That changed when Russian forces rolled into Ukraine in February 2022, in an invasion that Tokyo worries will embolden Beijing to strike Taiwan.


China stoked Japanese fears again that August by firing missiles into waters close to its territory in response to then-U.S. house speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. That came after months of intensifying Chinese activity in East Asia, including joint sorties with Russian forces.


China, which has not ruled out using military force to bring Taiwan under its control, has expressed concern about Japan's military spending plans, accusing it of displaying a "Cold War mentality."



With the cuts in its spending power, Japan decided to prioritize spending on advanced U.S.-made frontline weapons such as missiles that could halt advancing Chinese forces, the eight people said. That means less money on support aircraft and other secondary kit, much of it made by Japanese companies, they said.


In December, defence ministry officials discussed an order for 34 twin-rotor Chinook transport helicopters at roughly 15 billion yen per aircraft, two of the sources said.


In the defence budget request for the year starting April 2024, which was published in August, that order was halved to 17 because the cost of the aircraft had jumped by around 5 billion yen each since December. About half that increase was due to the weak yen, said one of the government sources, who was directly involved in those discussions.


The aircraft are assembled by Kawasaki Heavy Industries (7012.T) under license from Boeing Co (BA.N). A Kawasaki spokesperson confirmed that the unit cost increase had resulted in a reduction in the Chinook order.


Japan also scrapped a plan to buy two ShinMaywa Industries (7224.T) US-2 seaplanes used for search and rescue missions after the price per aircraft almost doubled to 30 billion yen compared with three years ago, said two other people familiar with the spending plans.


"The price has risen considerably, and that is because the weaker yen and inflation have significantly pushed up costs," a company spokesperson said. She declined to comment on whether the defence ministry had dropped an order for the seaplane.



For Kishida, who must grapple with rival ruling-party factions that are sparring over whether to borrow money or hike taxes to pay for his defence build-up, pruning equipment purchases may be politically less fraught than asking lawmakers for top-ups, analysts said.


"Whether Kishida decides to increase the budget or do nothing will depend on his support rate in Japan," said Yoji Koda, a retired Maritime Self Defense Force admiral, who commanded the Japanese fleet. He expects the Japanese leader to opt for procurement cuts or delays because it's easier than convincing taxpayers to fork out more money.


But, by sidestepping that challenge, Kishida is also inviting a backlash from Japanese companies that worry they will bear the brunt of cuts to ensure Tokyo can afford Raytheon (RTX.N) Tomahawks and the F-35 jets it has ordered from Lockheed Martin (LMT.N).


In a sign of growing discontent, the Japan Business Federation, the country's most influential corporate lobby, joined several defence industry associations in October to press the defence ministry for extra military procurement funds in a supplementary budget now before parliament, one of the sources said.


A ministry spokesperson confirmed the companies delivered a letter on Oct 25 to Defence Minister Minoru Kihara urging the government to proceed with the defence procurement as planned.


The business lobby declined to comment.


Defence firms will struggle to get more money because the government will want to hold off on adding to the 43 trillion-yen plan to see if the currency situation changes, said Kevin Maher at NMV Consulting in Washington, who headed the U.S. State Department's Office of Japan Affairs.


"If they think it will impact capabilities then it is possible, but I think at the earliest that would be in the next to last year of the five-year plan," he said.


($1 = 150.4000 yen) (Reuters)



VOI, Jakarta - The United States remains focused on the Indo-Pacific despite other global challenges, top U.S. diplomats said on Thursday as Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to go to Asia after a Middle East trip amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Blinken heads to Israel this week for talks on the Middle East conflict and will stop in Jordan before heading to Japan for a meeting with G7 counterparts and bilateral talks with Japanese officials and stops in South Korea and India. The trip lasts until Nov. 10.

"The Secretary's trip to the region demonstrates our enduring commitment to and focus on the Indo-Pacific, even amidst other global challenges," the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, told reporters in previewing the Asia leg of the trip.

Kritenbrink said Blinken would attend a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Tokyo and have separate talks with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Foreign Minster Yoko Kamikawa.

"We anticipate that discussions in those meetings will focus on events in the Middle East, support for Ukraine, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, a range of bilateral issues and of course, trilateral cooperation as well with (South Korea)," he said.

Kritenbrink said Japan had been an "outstanding" G7 chair and had "kept the G7 laser-focused on the most pressing issues both globally and regionally."

He did not respond when asked if he was confident the G7 would be able to agree a robust statement on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Asked what Blinken would tell the Asian countries about his talks last week with Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi, Kritenbrink said he believed they wanted to see Washington "responsibly managing our competition with China."

"Our commitment to the Indo-Pacific remains enduring," he said. "And the fundamental focus of our diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific remains strengthening our ties with allies, partners and friends, and growing their collective capacity, our shared capacity to support the rules-based international order."


The top U.S. diplomat for South Asia, Donald Wu, said "efforts to advance democracy and human rights" would be on the agenda in talks between the U.S. and Indian foreign and defense ministers "as well as our expanded cooperation in clean energy, counterterrorism, artificial intelligence, space, and semiconductor manufacturing." (Reuters)



VOI, Jakarta - The Meteorological, Climatological, and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) urged all parties to strengthen water management to ensure water supply for agriculture and communities amid the combination of El Nino and positive IOD that might trigger drought.

"Until the second dasarian (a ten-day period) of October 2023, El Nino is at a moderate level and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) remains positive,” Head of BMKG Dwikorita Karnawati stated in Jakarta on Thursday.

She said the BMKG and several other World Climate Centers project that El Nino will remain at a moderate level until the period of December 2023-January-February 2024, whereas positive IOD will remain until the end of 2023.

The condition will influence several sectors, such as agriculture, water resources, forestry, trade, energy, and health, she remarked.

“Thus, the government at all levels is expected to take steps to mitigate and anticipate negative impacts that might happen,” she noted.

Karnawati cautioned that in the agriculture sector, food crop production is threatened to decrease due to disturbed planting cycles, crop failure, the lack of resilience in some plants, or the spread of pests that are active during dry conditions.

In the water resources sector, this situation might lead to a decrease in water, whereas in the trade sector, it might trigger an increase in food prices, she stated.

Furthermore, in the forestry sector, it might cause wildfires. In the energy sector, it might lessen hydroelectric energy production.

In the defense sector, the condition increases the risk of health complications due to sanitation and a lack of clean water for consumption and hygiene.

“In regions that experience wildfires, this condition leads to air pollution and triggers acute respiratory infections (ISPA),” she stated.

Karnawati stated that the government can implement some strategies in an effort to mitigate the situation, with the first being strengthening water management.

The second strategy is by intensifying the dissemination of information and guidelines for farmers to adapt to the shift in seasonal patterns and select plants that are more resilient to drought.

The third approach is conducting counseling and training programs to help communities adopt an agricultural practice that is more resilient to droughts.

Under the fourth strategy, forest and land management is strengthened to prevent wildfires triggered by the dry weather.

The fifth strategy entails implementing an ecosystem rehabilitation program and land restoration for lands that have degraded due to droughts and wildfires.

The sixth approach involves setting a logistical preparation plan to ensure the supply of clean water and food, especially in vulnerable areas.

The seventh approach necessitates conducting a community awareness campaign about water conservation practices and ways to reduce the risks of disasters. (Antaranews)



VOI, Jakarta - Thousands of people swamped Pakistan's main northwestern border crossing seeking to cross into Afghanistan on Thursday, a day after the government's deadline expired for undocumented foreigners to leave or face expulsion.

Pakistani authorities began rounding up undocumented foreigners, most of them Afghans, hours before Wednesday's deadline. More than a million Afghans could have to leave or face arrest and forcible expulsion as a result of the ultimatum delivered by the Pakistan government a month ago.

Scrambling to cope with the sudden influx, the Taliban-run administration in Afghanistan said temporary transit camps had been set up, and food and medical assistance would be provided, but relief agencies reported dire conditions across the border.

"The organisations' teams stationed in the areas where people are returning from Pakistan have reported chaotic and desperate scenes among those who have returned," the Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council and International Rescue Committee said in a joint statement.

The Pakistani government has brushed off calls from the United Nations, rights groups and Western embassies to reconsider its expulsion plan, saying Afghans had been involved in Islamist militant attacks and in crime that undermined the security of the country.


More than 24,000 Afghans crossed the northwestern Torkham crossing into Afghanistan on Wednesday alone, Deputy Commissioner Khyber Tribal District Abdul Nasir Khan said. "There were a large number waiting for clearance and we made extra arrangements to better facilitate the clearance process."

Authorities had worked well into the night at a camp set up near the crossing, he added. The border, at the northwestern end of the Khyber Pass on the road between Peshawar in Pakistan and Jalalabad in Afghanistan, is usually closed by sundown.

Khan said 128,000 Afghans had left through the crossing since the Pakistani government issued its directive.

Others were crossing the border at Chaman, in Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan.


Major roads leading to border crossings were jammed with trucks carrying families and whatever belongings they could carry.

Aid agencies estimated the number of arrivals at Torkham had risen from 300 people a day to 9,000-10,000 since last month's expulsion decree.

Some Afghans who have been ordered to leave have spent decades in Pakistan, while some have never even been to Afghanistan, and wonder how they can start a new life there.

Of the more than 4 million Afghans living in Pakistan, the government estimates 1.7 million are undocumented.

Many fled during the decades of armed conflict that Afghanistan suffered since the late 1970s, while the Islamist Taliban's takeover after the withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces in 2021 led to another exodus.

Aid agencies warned that the mass movement of people could tip Afghanistan into yet another crisis and expressed "grave concerns" about the survival and reintegration of the returnees, particularly with the onset of winter.

International humanitarian funding for Afghanistan dried up after the Taliban took over and imposed restrictions on women.


Over 1,500 undocumented Afghans were being brought to the southwestern Chaman crossing after being rounded up in police raids in different areas of Pakistan, including the major port Karachi, Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai said.

People crossing from Chaman into Afghanistan's Spin Boldak have run into trouble finding transport to their final destinations, said Ismatullah, a bus service operator.

"A huge number of people are coming from Karachi but face a shortage of buses and trucks," he told Reuters by phone from Spin Boldak. "Obviously in such situations the fares have increased. The (Afghan) government is helping people according to its ability, but it is not enough." (Reuters)

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