Hanoi Catholics held a ceremony last Friday to welcome the man who is expected to become their new archbishop, but for many on hand – priests and faithful alike – it was a moment of sadness. There were no flowers at the altar of Hanoi’s 124-year-old cathedral welcoming Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, 72, to the role of coadjutor bishop. Outside on the steps, several dozen people brandished banners in protest of what his papal appointment represented.
HANOI, April 20 (Reuters) – Mid-size traders and farms that sell poultry to small farmers could act as avian flu transmission hubs and there needs to be to better biosecurity at that level, a top United Nations expert said on Tuesday.
Bird flu outbreaks have generally been dealt with by culling birds, but health authorities are now trying to look up the supply chain to identify possible sources of infection, said David Nabarro, the U.N.’s senior coordinator for avian and pandemic flu.
"We are finding that if we have a much clearer understanding of the patterns of movement of the virus, and in particular build-up points, we can then do much more sophisticated control strategies that have less economic damage for poorer people and more impact," he told Reuters in a telephone interview from Geneva.
"It’s the medium sized commercial poultry traders who have yet to introduce good quality biosecurity that are the ones on whom we are focusing most of our attention these days."
Nabarro is participating remotely in the two-day International Ministerial Conference on Animal and Pandemic Influenza that started in Hanoi on Tuesday. He could not attend in person because of flight cancellations due to the ash cloud over Europe.
Since 2003 the H5N1 strain of bird flu has has infected a confirmed 493 people and killed 292, or nearly 60 percent. Most of the deaths have been in Asia.
Juan Lubroth, Chief Veterinary Officer at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, said better management of animal stocks and farms was needed, but he worried that the message was not getting through.
"We need to invest more in upstream approaches," he said in Hanoi.
"We need to do a better job at improving some of these instabilities that we as humans have created with the mismanagement of natural resources, or increasing populations of susceptible animals, or the way we market and produce these without the proper veterinary inspection."
He estimated that the mid-sized farms Nabarro mentioned accounted for 60-70 percent of farmed animals, but said systems were not in place to comprehensively monitor diseases among animal populations that may become a threat to humans.
"Not just influenza, we want to be tracking other pathogens of concern — and not just emerging infectious diseases, there are some very old diseases that we know about that we are not doing enough about such as rabies or tuberculosis or foot and mouth disease," he said.
Almost all of the human H5N1 infections to date were believed to have taken place directly from birds to humans, but health experts fear it could mutate to a form that could be easily transmitted human-to-human, sparking a deadly global pandemic.
There have been two sizeable clusters so far — one in which eight family members died on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in 2006 and another in Turkey in which eight people were infected and four died.
In the Sumatra case, the virus went on for two generations and then stopped — a 37-year-old woman was believed to have infected her 10-year-old nephew, who went on to infect his father.
Another smaller probable case of human-to-human transmission occurred in Thailand in 2004, where a mother died after tending to her sick daughter for hours.
The conference in Hanoi brought together hundreds of officials from around the world and Nabarro said they would assess avian influenza prevention and look at systems for pandemic response. (Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
EA KENH, Vietnam (Reuters) – Ironically, Nguyen Tan Dinh was enjoying a coffee with friends early one Monday in March when he heard the unwelcome news that Phan Thi Kim Hoa was claiming to be bankrupt.
Hoa had played a crucial role for more than 20 years in tiny Ea Kenh commune in Vietnam’s Central Highlands coffee belt, linking farmers like Dinh with the global coffee market.
HANOI, April 9 (Reuters) – Southeast Asian leaders urged
Myanmar to hold fair and inclusive elections, and pledged to
work together to sustain recovery from the global financial
crisis as they wound up their summit on Friday.
A statement at the end of the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) meeting in Hanoi said the flood of
government spending and easy credit had borne fruit, putting
the region’s economy on an increasingly solid footing.
NHA TRANG, Vietnam (Reuters) – Southeast Asian leaders will consider ways to unwind emergency stimulus policies without jeopardizing recovery in the fast-growing region at a summit this week in Hanoi, a draft statement says.
But Myanmar, due to hold its first election in two decades, could again test ASEAN’s consensus when the group that includes a monarchy, a military dictatorship, communist states and democracies turns to politics at the April 8-9 summit.
HANOI (Reuters) – Google Inc has said it identified cyber attacks aimed at silencing opposition to a Vietnamese government-led bauxite mining project involving a major Chinese firm, and said they were similar to those at the heart of the company’s friction with Beijing.
The computer security firm McAfee Inc, which detected the malware, went a step further, saying its creators “may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
HANOI, Feb 1 (Reuters) – Vietnam has weathered the global economic crisis relatively well, but the country is still seen as a risky and relatively opaque investment destination.
Sovereign 5-year credit default swaps for Vietnam <VNGV5YUSAC=R> are trading at a spread of around 242.50, implying the second-highest level of risk in the Thomson Reuters Emerging Asia Index after Pakistan. The weighted average spread for emerging Asian countries in the index is 134.40.
Following is a summary of key risks to watch in Vietnam:
* EXCHANGE RATE POLICY
Vietnam’s fixed exchange rate policy frequently causes economic pressures to build. The central bank devalued the dong <VND=> in November for the third time since the start of 2008 to relieve pressure on the currency. The bank later said it was prepared to intervene on a "very big scale" to stabilise the dong, but many economists say the central bank does not have enough reserves to allow sustained intervention.
The dong’s chronic weakness and the expectation of further weakening led to dollar hoarding, which in turn created more weakness. After devaluing, the government has pressed major state-owned exporters to sell dollars, and persuaded state-run banks to ensure the dollar supply meets demand. It also vowed again to impose penalties for trading the currency outisde the official band. But the November devaluation damaged government policy credibility, as it had repeatedly said it would not allow another devaluation.
Analysts say the currency remains overvalued and structural problems have not been solved. However, the risk of a balance of payments crisis is declining. As the economy turns, the inflow of foreign currency is likely to increase, supporting the dong. What to watch:
— Markets will be watching to see whether the central bank matches its promise to support the currency with effective action. November’s devaluation dented Vietnam’s policy credibility and this may take some time to restore. Most analysts expect an orderly weakening of the currency in 2010.
— A key gauge of pressure on the currency is the gap between black market dollar/dong rates and interbank rates.
Corruption is endemic in Vietnam at all levels of government, and acts as a major barrier to foreign investment. The authorities had announced aggressive plans to fight corruption, and encouraged the media to act as a watchdog, but these efforts lost steam after several journalists were detained for reporting on major scandals. Progress on corruption will remain a key determinant of long-term investment attractiveness.
What to watch:
— Vietnam’s rank in corruption perceptions rankings. A strong improvement or decline would influence long-term investment. In Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, Vietnam’s score was unchanged from the previous year, giving it a ranking of 120 out of 180 countries.
* GOVERNMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Corruption, lack of accountability and transparency, and burdensome bureaucracy all impact the effectiveness of the government in formulating and implementing policy. Economic reform and the restructuring of inefficient state enterprises are vulnerable to being undermined by entrenched interests and conservative elements in a government more focused on security.
Political analysts say there could be a degree of policy paralysis, or at least conservatism, in the coming year as factions and players jockey for position ahead of the Communist Party’s 11th national congress in early 2011. Important leadership and policy changes generally only happen at the congress, which takes place once every five years.
What to watch:
— While the government stimulus package has boosted the economy, there are questions over how the budget deficit can be financed, how inflationary pressure can be contained, and how the crowding out of private investment can be avoided. Hanoi has embarked on a plan to trim bureaucratic procedures, and foreign direct investors in particular will watch how that plays out. — Investors often list poor infrastructure as one of Vietnam’s major barriers. The government’s ability to coordinate swift, efficient development in this area is a key issue.
* SOCIAL UNREST
Vietnam has seen a rising number of strikes, protests and land disputes in recent years, periodically affecting foreign businesses. Disturbances have erupted in rural areas due to state expropriations of land and corruption by local officials. There is no evidence for now that wider unrest is likely, or that there is any imminent risk of the regime being challenged from below.
What to watch:
— Any sign that a broader national protest movement is emerging out of local disputes. So far, this seems unlikely. — The role of the Catholic church. Catholics have been engaging in periodic protests over church land taken over by the government after 1954. The Catholic Church, while officially shunning involvement in politics, has 6-7 million followers in Vietnam and is well organised.
— Territorial disputes in the South China Sea. This issue is highly charged in Vietnam, where suspicion of China runs high. Any move by China to assert sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea, or perceived weakness by Vietnam on this issue, could galvanise broad-based support for demonstrations.
* THE ENVIRONMENT
Vietnam has great potential as a source of tradeable carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol, but issues of expertise, transparency and financing have hindered progress. Environmental issues may also become a growing source of popular unrest, as in China. With its huge coastline, Vietnam is recognised as one of the countries that will be hardest hit by rising sea levels, particularly in the rice-growing Mekong Delta.
What to watch:
— The extent to which the government manages to limit the environmental damage from Vietnam’s economic growth.
— Any evidence that extreme weather affecting Vietnam is becoming more frequent as a result of climate change.
(Compiled by Andrew Marshall and John Ruwitch)
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (Reuters) – A Vietnamese court Wednesday sentenced four democracy activists to jail for subversion, drawing fire from Western diplomats who called for their release.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, an Internet entrepreneur, was given 16 years in jail, activist Nguyen Tien Trung got seven years, Le Thang Long, a colleague of Thuc’s, was handed five years, and U.S.-trained lawyer Le Cong Dinh, the best known of the defendants, also got five years.
HANOI, Nov 5 (Reuters) – A jostle for influence in Southeast Asia’s emerging Mekong River region moves up a notch this week when Japan hosts leaders from five countries where China and other players have ramped up aid and investment.
The two-day event in Tokyo will focus on sustainable development and climate change in a region that includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Mekong River snakes through a last frontier of emerging Asia, scarred by war and anti-colonial struggles, a region viewed as strategic for its proximity to shipping lanes and abundant natural resources.
In recent decades, Tokyo has been the biggest outside source of aid to the sub-region, whose combined population exceeds 220 million and with a total GDP of more than $400 billion. Japanese companies were also among the earliest foreign investors.
But China’s global quest for resources, and its outward investment drive of the past decade or so, have enlarged its presence in Southeast Asia.
"The Japanese realise — they’ve realised for a long time — that they are just being totally outmanoeuvred by the Chinese," said Richard Cronin, Director of the Southeast Asia programme at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
One of the world’s major river systems, the Mekong starts in the Tibetan plateau and runs 4,800 km through China and Southeast Asia. China will not be present at the summit.
The summit will discuss promoting development, while tackling environment and climate change, cross-border problems such as infectious disease, and promoting tourism, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official told reporters on Wednesday.
He downplayed the notion of competition. "We don’t need to compete with others. If the region is developed, it will be beneficial to them as well as to us."
Japan’s new government has been keen to tackle climate change issues and at a meeting of Japan-Mekong foreign ministers last month, they discussed developing hydropower in a way that would protect the environment and biodiversity.
Scientists say a cascade of dams on the upper Mekong in China and further downstream, some being funded by China, threaten to alter the waterway that directly sustains some 60 million people through agriculture and fishing.
Since the early 1990s, Japan has led the way in funding the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Greater Mekong sub-region programme, which has built roads and other infrastructure. This, analysts say, has laid the groundwork for cross-border economic corridors linking the capitals and major cities.
Lately, China has gotten into the act. In Cambodia, for instance, Japan remains the biggest donor but China has become the largest foreign investor. Prime Minister Hun Sen recently hailed China as his country’s best friend.
Chinese companies have been investing aggressively in Laos and Myanmar, as well, building dams, harvesting timber, and participating in mining projects. It is the third biggest investor in Laos and the fourth in Myanmar, Xinhua reported.
Chinese government aid generally has come without strings attached, making it an attractive choice for some governments in the region, analysts say.
Beyond the economics, Cronin believes "it’s about the issue of Asian regionalism. Is it a real thing? Is it going to happen? And if it happens, who is going to be in charge of it, or who’s got the advantage?" (Additional reporting by Yoko Nishikawa, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Ek Madra in Cambodia; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
HUA HIN, Thailand (Reuters) – India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rebuffed China’s wishes that it bar the Dalai Lama from traveling to a disputed border area, telling Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao the Tibetan spiritual leader was an honored guest.
“I explained to Premier Wen that the Dalai Lama is our honored guest. He is a religious leader. We do not allow the Tibetan refugees to indulge in political activities,” Singh told reporters on Sunday, a day after he and Wen held bilateral talks.