Jet Fuel Shortage Disrupts Travel To-From New Zealand’s Main Airport
As many as three dozen domestic and international flights at New Zealand’s Auckland Airport have been canceled Tuesday as it struggles to deal with a weeklong fuel shortage.
New Zealand’s main airport has lost 70 percent of its jet fuel supplies since a digger ruptured the main pipeline that carries fuel to the facility, forcing many air carriers to refuel at other airports in the Pacific region. The accident has also cut off supplies of high-grade gasoline at Auckland gas stations, although fuel supplier Z Energy says stocks of regular gasoline are still plentiful.
The pipeline’s owner says the repairs will not be completed until sometime next week.
Prime Minister Bill English says a naval tanker and military trucks have been assigned to transport fuel to ease the shortage, and has ordered all lawmakers and public employees to avoid any unnecessary air travel until the situation is resolved.
The fuel disruption has placed enormous pressure on English with Saturday’s national elections on the horizon. Jacinda Ardern, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, accused English of ignoring warnings about the pipeline’s vulnerability.
“One pipeline, one digger, and New Zealand grinds to a halt,” Ardern told reporters Tuesday. The 37-year-old politician has led the Labour Party from a certain electoral defeat to a tight race with English’s ruling National Party.
Peru’s PM: New Cabinet to Revive Slumping Public Investments
Peru’s prime minister said on Monday that the country’s new Cabinet will focus on reviving public investments as it seeks to mend fences with the opposition party that forced President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to form a new government.
Congress ousted the former Cabinet last week following a dispute over education reforms, fueling fears that political fighting might hurt economic growth that has already slowed sharply this year due to floods and a graft scandal.
Mercedes Araoz, Peru’s new prime minister, said on local broadcaster RPP that she was optimistic about rebuilding a working relationship with the opposition. A key test will be efforts to rapidly rebuild parts of Peru hit by flooding, Araoz said.
Congress will likely vote on whether to give Araoz’ Cabinet a vote of confidence in the first week of October, she added.
Araoz is a ruling party lawmaker and former finance minister in the 2006-2011 term of former President Alan Garcia.
Forecasts for an economic recovery in Peru hinge on the government increasing public investments that fell 10.4 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2017.
“Now’s the time. We can’t fall behind in this process” of increasing public investments, Araoz said.
President Kuczynski, a center-right politician and former Wall Street banker, vowed to work to modernize Peru and strengthen the economy of the world’s second-biggest copper producer.
But his first year in office has been marked by slowing economic growth and clashes with Congress, where the right-wing populist party of his former rival Keiko Fujimori has a majority.
Fujimori welcomed the new Cabinet on Twitter after it was sworn in on Sunday and said Kuczynski’s government still has four years to “mend its ways and make progress.”
Similar remarks from opposition lawmakers signaled Congress would likely give the new Cabinet a vote of confidence. But after previous efforts to reset relations failed, it was unclear how long the new truce might last.
Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk analysis company, said Peru has a score of 4.44 out of 10 – a “high risk” ranking – on its government effectiveness index.
Despite Fujimori’s support for the new Cabinet, “the re-tooled team will remain hostage to the Fujimorista-controlled Congress, with Kuczynski’s political credibility continuing to ebb,” said Maplecroft analyst Eileen Gavin.
If Congress fails to approve of the new Cabinet, Kuczynski can summon new legislative elections.
China Builds an ‘Orlando’ Aside its ‘Vegas’ and ‘New York’
Just a stone’s throw across a narrow waterway from the world’s largest gambling hub Macau, a former oyster farming island is being transformed into China’s newest tourism haven.
Dubbed by some as China’s answer to Florida’s Orlando — a global tourist magnet with its cluster of major theme parks — Hengqin has seen property prices more than double over the past two years.
While still a dusty mass of construction sites, Hengqin now draws millions annually to its anchor attraction, the “Chimelong Ocean Kingdom” theme park, with a slew of hotel, malls and sprawling residential developments being built nearby.
Spanish soccer club, Real Madrid, announced last week they would open an interactive virtual reality complex in Hengqin, in partnership with Hong Kong-listed developer, Lai Sun Group .
The 12,000-square-meter venue, set to open in 2021, will include virtual reality entertainment and a museum showcasing the club’s history.
Oysters to Orlando of China
The transformation of Hengqin, which is three times as large as Macau, is part of Beijing’s efforts to bolster links between Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in the Pearl River Delta region, or so-called “Greater Bay Area,” modeled after other dynamic global bay areas such as Tokyo and San Francisco.
“Hengqin will be the Orlando of China. Macau is Las Vegas (and) Hong Kong is New York,” said Larry Leung, an executive with Lai Sun that is helping build the Real Madrid complex at its “Novotown” project in Hengqin. “Within an hour you can have them all.”
Novotown’s entertainment mix will also feature China’s first Lionsgate movie world with theme rides from blockbuster films such as the Hunger Games and Twilight, as well as a National Geographic educational center. High-end hotel chains and luxury yacht makers are building more hotels and a marina on Hengqin.
Chinese officials see Hengqin helping Macau diversify away from casinos to a more wholesome tourism industry. More than 80 percent of Macau’s public revenues come from the gambling sector.
Businesses in Macau have been encouraged to invest in Hengqin with the government providing cheaper rent and tax subsidies. Galaxy Entertainment, Shun Tak and Macau Legend have also earmarked developments for Hengqin.
Realtors expect property prices to keep rising once a sea bridge linking Hong Kong, and a high-speed rail station are completed.
Hoffman Ma, deputy chairman of Success Universe Group, which operates the Ponte 16 casino in Macau, said Hengqin could take some convention and exhibition business away from the former Portuguese colony.
“It doesn’t make sense for Macau to do that, due to a consistent labor shortage,” he said.
Big population, more theme parks
Wang Lian, from Wuhan in central China, brought his daughter to watch whale sharks and polar bears at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom recently.
Industry reports show 8.5 million people visited China’s top theme park last year, more than Hong Kong Disneyland’s 6.1 million, and almost a third of the 28 million people who visited Macau last year.
“China’s population is so big they need something like this nearby … its (Hengqin’s) economic ties will also help Macau develop,” Wang said.
For Muslim Relief Workers, Faith & Charity Form an Inextricable Bond
When Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Coast, the Islamic Circle of North America arranged shelter. After it passed, they provided relief. Its volunteers — made up of immigrant and nonimmigrant, Muslim and non-Muslims — has opened minds and hearts wherever they go, to their shared desire to give back to the country.
For Muslim Relief Workers, Faith and Charity Form Inextricable Bond
When Hurricane Irma battered the Florida Coast, volunteers of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) arranged shelter.
After it passed, they provided relief — from flood-damaged homes in Naples to uprooted tree trunk clearings in Cooper City, Florida.
Abdulrauf Khan, a Pakistani immigrant and assistant executive director at ICNA Relief USA — a network of disaster relief and social services — has been through all of it. Anytime a natural calamity strikes, he’s present.
Khan describes his motives as two-fold: a desire to assist his neighbors, while empowering his three children.
“I have a son who is 18 years old,” he begins to recount a vivid memory. “He asked me five years ago, ‘Dad, what have you done for this country?’”
It’s a simple question that would provide clarity to Khan’s mission.
“We have to work and we have to make sure our children feel that ownership of the country,” he said. “We have to give back.”
‘A basic part of the religion’
From Hurricanes Harvey to Irma, there are many Texans who embrace the work of Muslim relief volunteers, and select others who are hesitant to grant their trust, based solely on religion. But regardless of their reception, ICNA answers the call to assist, and changes some minds in the process.
“Charity is a big part of Islam, and giving back to the community is a big part of Islam,” says Aqsa Cheema, administrative coordinator for ICNA Relief South Florida.
Cheema, 22, a generation Pakistani-American who assisted with Irma relief, says she has been in the habit of giving back since she was a kid, attending mosque.
“You go along with it, and you get the chance to distribute food and do things that can benefit the community,” she says. “That’s just a basic part of the religion.”
Open hearts, open arms
Earlier in the week, as Irma’s ruthless winds pounded the state indiscriminately, ICNA facilitated shelter for Floridians — any and all Floridians — in a Boca Raton-based Islamic Center.
Some of their guests said they had never met a Muslim.
“It was their first experience coming to an Islamic Center,” Khan said. “They felt like, ‘this is what we feel like when we go to church, when we go to synagogue’” — welcome, and at home.
Cheema, who is studying to be a social worker, describes her work as enriching, but never complete.
“That lack of true fulfillment is what keeps me going,” she says.
“I accept the fact that I can’t help everyone, but maybe if I help one person, and someone sees me helping that person, they will be like, ‘Hey, you know what? It felt nice to bring a smile on a person’s face. I can help them too.’”
In Times of Disaster, Why Businesses React the Way They Do
During natural disasters, why do some companies open their doors to the community while other take advantage of its members? Tina Trinh explores the reasons why businesses react the way they do and the cost to their public image.
China Bitcoin Exchange to End Trading; Currency Value Falls
One of China’s biggest bitcoin exchanges says it will end trading after news reports that regulators have ordered all Chinese exchanges to close caused the price of the digital currency to plunge.
BTC China said on its website it will “stop all trading business” Sept. 30. The exchange said it was acting in the spirit of a central bank ban last week on initial coin offerings but gave no indication it received a direct order to close.
The central bank has not responded to questions about the currency’s future in China.
There was no immediate word from other Chinese bitcoin exchanges about their plans.
Bitcoin’s value tumbled 15 percent Thursday to about $3,300. The famously volatile currency has shed about a third of its value since Sept. 1 but is up from about $600 a year ago.
Bitcoin surged in popularity in China last year as its price rose. Trading dwindled after regulators tightened controls and warned the currency might be linked to fraud.
Bitcoin is created and exchanged without the involvement of banks or governments. Transactions allow anonymity, which has made bitcoin popular with people who want to conceal their activity. Bitcoin can be converted to cash when deposited into accounts at prices set in online trading.
A Chinese business news magazine, Caixin, said at one point up to 90 percent of global trading took place in China.
Leverage in Cambodia Key Question for US, EU
Radio Free Asia has joined the ranks of media outlets shuttered under the now almost blanket smothering of an independent press in Cambodia, as U.S. and European diplomatic efforts have failed, so far, to halt the county’s descent into authoritarianism ahead of elections next year.
The closure of the U.S.-funded outlet, due to what it called intimidation, represents another escalation in opposition to Washington by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Conciliatory overtones made in a news conference Tuesday by U.S. Ambassador William Heidt have failed to halt the government’s campaign to paint Washington as the masterminds of a vast conspiracy involving all major opponents of the government.
“These are extraordinary allegations. The business of diplomacy is normally carried out with careful and respectful language, the kind of language I’m going to use today. Difficult messages are delivered privately first. Friendly nations seek ways to bridge differences,” he told reporters.
Two days later, the government mouthpiece Fresh News posted an article declaring the United States “should take a helicopter to transport its citizens from Cambodia, as it did in April 1975.”
Having spent billions of dollars promoting a stable, nominally democratic Cambodia, the United States and the European Union now have only a beleaguered opposition to show for it. The party’s leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested this month in connection with Washington’s alleged grand plan.
“Basically, after tens of billions of dollars invested in Cambodia, we’re back where we were 25 years ago … the more things changed, the more they actually stayed the same,” said Sophal Ear, author of Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy.
China’s deep pockets are often cited as an unstoppable force whittling away Western leverage in Cambodia, and Beijing has offered public support for Cambodia’s arrest of Sokha.
Returning from China on Wednesday, Hun Sen praised Beijing as “a strong backer who continues to help Cambodia in all circumstance, which no foreign [countries] can break.”
But Cambodia’s economic entanglements are far more complicated than mere aid contributions, and as tension with Western powers intensifies, drastic measures that would be considered unthinkable under normal circumstances could come into play.
Access to markets
Aid to Cambodia is measured in millions of dollars, but export markets are measured in the billions.
The United States is its biggest individual country export market at $3.5 billion, or 22 percent of the total, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), an online resource for economic data. China accounts for just 4.4 percent.
Cambodia also benefits handsomely from preferential access to European markets, with its exports there rising from just above $595 million in 2006 to about $5.25 billion in 2016 — under a scheme that has both labor and human rights clauses. In comparison, Cambodia has an enormous trade deficit with China of around $3 billion, OEC data show.
The EU has withdrawn a country’s access to these markets three times: from Sri Lanka in 2010 for human rights violations carried out during that country’s civil war, from Myanmar in 1997 for forced labor and from Belarus in 2007 for failing to respect the basic rights of trade unions.
“What could trigger such a procedure is a serious and systematic violation of one of the listed fundamental human rights or labor rights conventions,” an EU spokesperson told VOA.
So while it is true that Chinese foreign investment in and aid to Cambodia increased dramatically — in 2015 its foreign direct investment eclipsed all other countries combined at around $1 billion — the assertion that the West’s relationships with Phnom Penh are rendered meaningless as a result is not the full picture.
“The last thing Hun Sen would want would be to provoke the U.S., whether the Congress, White House or U.S. trade representative, to raise Cambodia’s market access to the United States. Unrest by textile workers would destabilize the Hun Sen regime and provide grist for the opposition mill,” said Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
There are more than 700,000 registered garment workers in Cambodia in an industry heavily reliant on Western markets.
Bigger fish to fry
Some are interpreting new U.S. visa restrictions on Cambodians as a punitive measure. But other than that and the usual statements expressing concern and urging transparency, the response in the West has been muted, especially in Washington.
“I can only surmise that the State Department is in disarray with the new Trump administration, a new secretary of state with little experience in diplomacy, vacancies at the senior level, and impending budget cuts,” Thayer said.
“There has been no response by the Trump administration to Hun Sen’s cancellation of military exercises with the U.S. earlier this year. Since Trump’s Afghanistan speech, in which he nixed nation-building and democracy promotion, who at State will take any initiative against Hun Sen?” Thayer asked.
Trump has also abandoned U.S. participation in one of the State Department’s sharpest diplomatic tools in Asia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Meanwhile, higher priorities are bountiful, even in Asia.
“Whether we like it or not, Cambodia is not one of the so-called hot spots of global politics. The international community’s focus is on countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan or Myanmar,” said Barbara Lochbihler, vice chair for the European Parliament’s Human Rights Committee.