Growing aggression: China’s actions escalate in South China Sea - Business Guardian
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International Affairs

Growing aggression: China’s actions escalate in South China Sea



In a clear display of a hardened stance towards the Philippines, Chairman Xi Jinping has evidently directed agencies such as the China Coast Guard (CCG), under his direct command, to exhibit increased assertiveness in the South China Sea. Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef positioned 194 kilometers west of the Philippine island of Palawan, has emerged as a significant hotspot in the region. This reef is notable for housing the Philippine Navy’s aging landing ship, BRP Sierra Madre, grounded in 1999 to reinforce Manila’s territorial assertion. Notably, Second Thomas Shoal is merely 32 kilometers away from China’s military base on Mischief Reef.

China has been harassing Philippine resupply missions to the Sierra Madre’s garrison of Philippine marines for more than a decade, but last year it intensified these efforts to an alarming scale. For example, a swarm of 38 Chinese vessels maneuvered recklessly and employed water cannon during a resupply mission on 10 November, 2023. Then, on 10 December, 2023, the CCG deliberately rammed a Philippine vessel. In further resupply missions this year, the CCG has routinely employed water cannon against Philippine civilian resupply vessels, resulting in damage to boats and injuries to crew.

Concerning the most recent incident in late March, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela complained, “Their barbaric act of using water cannon to attack the resupply boat that endangered the lives of the Filipino troops is a clear manifestation of their blatant disregard of international law.”

The CCG and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) are the culpable parties in these acts of gray-zone coercion, but the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) plays a supporting role. For instance, a PLA Z-8 helicopter was recently filmed hovering low over a team of Philippine scientists on Sandy Cay, just 3km from Philippine-occupied Thitu Island, in a deliberate attempt to force them off the sandbar. Before they withdrew, the scientists confirmed that the fish and coral were in a “very poor state” amidst a manmade pile of rubble.

Chinese dredging and land reclamation have given that country an extra 1,300 hectares of land in the Spratly Islands. The Philippines occupies eight features in the Spratly Island chain, the largest of which is Thitu Island. PAFMM vessels have swarmed other shoals in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with 135 boats detected at Whitsun Reef last December, for example. Beijing’s sea control tactics feature swarming to achieve temporary local control, plus mission-kill actions like water cannon, ramming, and now the use of helicopters.

Unfortunately, the Philippines does not have the necessary fleet nor size of ships to effectively counter such tactics, plus it is reticent to employ more capable Philippine Navy assets in case it amplifies tensions.

Why is China doing this? It reflects Beijing’s exceptionalism stance, whereby it believes international law does not apply to it. The most obvious example is the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling in 2016 that Beijing’s South China Sea territorial claims have no legal basis whatsoever. China is prosecuting aggressive expansionist maritime territorial claims, and it is adamant that it wants to control everything within its illegal and ambiguous Nine-Dash Line claim.

Sino-Philippine ties were relatively good under Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, primarily because he complied with Chinese demands. As long as the Philippine government remained subservient to Beijing, China held its forces in check. However, as soon as Manila stood up for its rights, China took its gloves off.

Today, China persistently refers to an “agreement” whereby the Philippines promised to remove Sierra Madre from Second Thomas Shoal. For example, China maintains that Manila “has gone back on its own words, refused to fulfill its commitment, repeatedly broken its promise made to China, and severely violated Article 5 of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”.

The Philippines denies that any such agreement exists. Duterte possibly made such a commitment, but he certainly did not put it on paper because it would have been deeply unpopular at home. Furthermore, China has failed to provide any evidence of such an agreement.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been more proactive in defending Philippine sovereignty than Duterte ever was, and he has scotched any promises his predecessor may have made. In January 2023, Marcos met Xi, and they agreed to resolve differences peacefully. However, that very same month, Filipino fishermen inside the Philippine EEZ were chased away by the CCG, and the following month, the CCG aimed a laser at a PCG vessel.

The CCG is supposed to enforce maritime laws and enhance maritime safety. Instead, force is a blunt weapon in the government’s arsenal of nationalistic territory-grabbing and coercion. In the face of China’s blatant aggression, Manila has changed tactics. As PCG spokesman Tarriela pointed out, “The Philippine government has chosen to expose China’s aggression and unlawful actions in the West Philippine Sea. It is important to clarify that the escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea are not caused by the United States but by the PRC. While the US is an ally of the Philippines, it is not the root cause of the tensions. The Chinese government should avoid confusion and learn to recognize that if they were only sincere in their words and chose not to bully other countries in the South China Sea, tensions would not be as high. Unless, of course, what China means by lowering tension is being submissive or not reacting to their bullying and aggressive actions!”

From 2016 to June 2022, Manila filed 388 diplomatic protests against China concerning the latter’s actions in the South China Sea. The Marcos administration had filed an extra 147 protests as of late March 2024. Philippine-US ties rebounded after Duterte, who is staunchly anti-American, departed. However, the two Mutual Defense Treaty partners need to decide what an “armed confrontation” entails and how they will respond to Chinese provocation. The American military is stretched taut by current commitments and conflicts in places like Ukraine and the Middle East, though its P-8A aircraft have provided overwatch during Second Thomas Shoal resupply missions.

Manila’s induction of BrahMos coastal missile batteries and the eventual acquisition of multirole fighters will give the Philippines more heft, but such assets are wholly inappropriate against China’s gray-zone tactics. This is precisely Beijing’s purpose. It operates just under the threshold that it believes equates to armed conflict, but at the same time, it continues to push the boundaries. The PCG and Philippine Navy need a stronger presence to deter an emboldened China, though without unnecessarily stoking tensions.

China will not mind pressuring the Philippines into an unfortunate incident, as indicated by the following type of comment: Hu Xijin, a former editor of the Chinese Global Times tabloid, tweeted, “As a media professional, I strongly advocate that China should not fire the first shot in various frictions. This should be upheld as a principle of goodwill for peace in the South China Sea. But the Philippines should listen carefully. Once the Philippines fires the first shot, I fully support China’s PLA in making Philippine ships riddled with bullets. I believe most Chinese people will support it by then.” Collin Koh, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies of the S. Rajaratnam School of International in Singapore, countered, “[If the] PRC fires the first shot, it triggers the Mutual Defense Treaty. If the Philippines fires the first shot in defense of legitimate maritime interests and the PRC hits back, it also triggers the Mutual Defense Treaty. You may quibble whether the Americans will commit, but any prudent PRC defense planner won’t take these calculations in a cavalier manner.”

It is clear that a South China Sea Code of Conduct between China and other claimants, which Beijing has been stalling for years, will achieve nothing either. Instead, the Philippines needs to widen its circle of international supporters. Indeed, numerous nations have come out in favor of Manila and have lambasted China for its violent actions. Last year, the Philippines gave permission for the USA to access four new military sites, in addition to five already approved for American use. The USA is investing USD109 million in infrastructure improvements at seven of these bases.

On April 11, President Joe Biden will host President Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in their first-ever trilateral summit, which marks a growing confluence of support. As another example, Japan’s navy is planning to take part in a Philippine US military training exercise in the South China Sea later this year. The three conducted a trilateral coast guard exercise last year, all indications of increasing cooperation. Tokyo is expected to elevate the Philippines to a “quasi-ally” status, similar to the level of Australia or the UK.

China is highly critical of US support for the Philippines. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian asked, “Who has been stirring up trouble and making provocations on the South China Sea issue? Who has been breaching the common understandings between our two countries and reneging on their own commitments? Who has been staging a show and hyping up tensions? Who has been pulling forces outside the region to interfere in the issue?” Likewise, the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines remarked that “inviting wolves into the house” and forming “exclusive cliques” would not help resolve South China Sea differences but would ultimately backfire. In a similar vein, Lou Qinjian, spokesperson for the Second Session of the 14th National People’s Congress, said last month, “China is opposed to bloc confrontation, and its cooperation with neighboring countries is open, inclusive, and not exclusive.” He accused Manila of “smearing China’s legitimate, reasonable, and restrained measures that aimed to safeguard territorial sovereignty and maritime rights.”.

Yet these territorial issues fall under the purview of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Manila anchors its claim on its legitimate EEZ as outlined by UNCLOS, while China’s basis is its “historical” Nine-Dash Line, which holds absolutely no legal authority. China’s argument is that it refused to participate in the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration case and that, therefore, it is not bound by its conclusions. However, the tribunal can proceed even if one party refuses to engage. That means that the validity and enforcement of the tribunal’s decisions do not hinge at all on China’s participation. By signing and ratifying the UNCLOS treaty itself, China has already bound itself to the court’s authority and rulings, despite protests to the contrary.

Unfortunately, China is encouraging its law enforcement and military personnel to be even more vigorous in enforcing illegal territorial claims. There is a legacy of idolizing military personnel who go beyond the call of duty, a prime example being PLA pilot Wang Wei, whose J-8II fighter collided with an American EP-3E reconnaissance plane 110km from the Chinese coast on April 1, 2001. Wang died as a result of his gung-ho antics, and the Singaporean academic Koh noted: “Wang was known before his demise for his bold, sometimes daredevil, and overzealous flying. His departure served as a rallying point for the Chinese Communist Party, and his ‘feats’ regularly upheld as a role model for younger generations of PLA combat aviators, which is itself worrisome.”

The Philippines has been using civilian vessels, supported by PCG boats, to resupply the Second Thomas Shoal garrison. It must now implement best practices for resupplying the garrison and eventually replace this grounded rust bucket that was only ever an interim solution. China’s actions have already prompted Manila to consider establishing a more permanent outpost there. For example, an oil platform-type structure that can land helicopters would increase the potential cost of Chinese interference. Naturally, restoring Philippine control over its EEZ requires the full spectrum of diplomatic, economic, and informational tools. Manila cannot afford to lose control of Second Thomas Shoal, as it did with Scarborough Shoal in 2012. In the face of such withering and dangerous Chinese actions, Manila must show strong resolve, a stance for which it needs the support of America and other allies.

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International Affairs

Green recovery, Israel seeks proposals for waste treatment plant near Gaza



Israel is gearing up to establish a new facility for treating natural waste in the southern regions of the country, particularly in areas near Gaza. The Ministry of Environmental Protection, as part of its “Green South” initiative, along with the Western Negev Cluster, has invited entrepreneurs to apply for financial assistance to build a facility for processing vegetable agricultural waste in the Takuma (Rebirth) region, which encompasses towns and farms near the Gaza border.

The Takuma area suffered significant devastation during the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7, and this initiative is just one of several plans aimed at rehabilitating the region. The selected firm will be eligible for a grant of up to 40 million Shekels ($10.8 million), not exceeding 40% of the total investment cost.

The Western Negev region is often referred to as the grain storehouse of Israel, but it faces challenges with large volumes of agricultural waste accumulating without proper management, posing hazards. In response, the government has outlined plans to strengthen the authorities in the Takuma region, with the Western Negev Eshkol preparing a program for managing agricultural waste in collaboration with the Eshkol and Sdot Negev regional councils. The program is fully funded by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

In addition to waste treatment, the program includes other initiatives such as terminal facilities for processing agricultural plastic or nylon waste, pruning management systems, subsidies for farmers to manage clean pruning, and measures for information dissemination and enforcement.

The initiative to establish a waste treatment facility in the southern region of Israel, near Gaza, comes as a response to the pressing need to address environmental and health concerns arising from the accumulation of agricultural waste. The devastation caused by the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7 further underscores the urgency of rehabilitation efforts in the affected areas.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection’s “Green South” initiative, in collaboration with the Western Negev Cluster, demonstrates a proactive approach to environmental management and sustainable development. By inviting entrepreneurs to participate in the establishment of the waste treatment facility, the government aims to leverage innovation and private sector expertise to address the region’s waste management challenges effectively.

The financial support provided to the selected firm, amounting to up to 40 million Shekels ($10.8 million), reflects the government’s commitment to facilitating the implementation of environmentally friendly solutions. This grant, covering up to 40% of the investment cost, incentivizes private sector involvement in critical infrastructure projects that contribute to the well-being of local communities and the environment.

The Western Negev region’s significance as a key agricultural hub in Israel highlights the importance of sustainable waste management practices. Without proper treatment facilities, agricultural waste poses not only environmental hazards but also economic challenges, hindering the region’s productivity and potential for growth.

In addition to the waste treatment facility, the government’s comprehensive plan for managing agricultural waste includes initiatives such as the development of terminal facilities for processing plastic and nylon waste, implementation of pruning management systems, and provision of subsidies to farmers for responsible waste management practices. These measures aim to promote sustainable agricultural practices while mitigating the adverse impacts of waste accumulation on the environment and public health.

Overall, the establishment of the waste treatment facility in the Takuma region represents a significant step towards addressing environmental challenges and promoting sustainable development in Israel’s southern regions. By investing in innovative solutions and fostering collaboration between government, private sector, and local communities, Israel demonstrates its commitment to building a greener and more resilient future for all.

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International Affairs

Japan’s Teleworking shrinks, Hybrid work surges: Govt. survey



With the gradual decline of the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan is observing a significant change in work dynamics, as more people adopt a “hybrid work” approach, blending remote and in-office work. Insights from the fiscal 2023 government survey, administered by the transport ministry in October and November, illuminate the shifting teleworking landscape in the nation.

According to the survey results, the proportion of teleworkers in Japan has declined, with 16.1 percent of the 36,228 respondents reporting working from home or elsewhere outside the office in the last year. This represents a decrease of 2.7 percentage points from the previous survey. The decline marks a departure from the peak teleworking period during the height of the pandemic, reflecting a gradual return to pre-pandemic work arrangements.

Teleworking emerged as a prominent strategy during the pandemic, as the government sought to reduce the flow of people and curb the spread of infections. However, the survey highlights a discernible shift in this trend as the pandemic situation evolves. The ratio of teleworkers stood at 21.4 percent in the fiscal 2021 survey, declining to 18.8 percent the following year, and further dropping to 16.1 percent in fiscal 2023.

Despite the decrease in teleworking overall, the survey indicates that the average frequency of teleworking remains relatively stable, with individuals teleworking an average of 2.3 days per week, unchanged from the previous year. However, there has been a noticeable change in the distribution of teleworking frequency. Following the government’s decision to downgrade the legal status of COVID-19 in May last year, aligning it more closely with seasonal influenza, there has been a notable increase in the number of individuals working remotely for one or two days a week. Conversely, the proportion of those working remotely for five to seven days a week has decreased.

A ministry official attributed this shift to a growing trend of combining office-based work with telework, reflecting a broader adaptation to changing work dynamics in the post-pandemic era. This hybrid work model allows individuals to enjoy the benefits of both remote work, such as flexibility and reduced commuting time, and in-office collaboration and social interaction.

The survey also highlights regional variations in teleworking rates, with bigger cities exhibiting higher rates of remote work. For instance, the greater Tokyo area, including Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures, recorded a teleworking rate of 28 percent, indicating a strong prevalence of remote work practices in Japan’s bustling capital. In comparison, regions such as the Kinki region (covering Osaka and Kyoto) and the Chukyo region (centered on Nagoya) reported lower teleworking rates.

Overall, the findings of the fiscal 2023 government survey underscore the evolving nature of work arrangements in Japan, characterized by a shift towards hybrid work models that blend remote work with traditional office-based work. As organizations and individuals continue to adapt to the post-pandemic reality, flexible work arrangements are likely to remain a key feature of Japan’s work culture, promoting efficiency, resilience, and work-life balance in the years to come.

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International Affairs

More than 23 million Afghans urgently require humanitarian aid: UNAMA report



The latest report from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) paints a bleak picture, revealing that a staggering 23.7 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance as of 2024, as reported by Khaama Press. Despite a slight decrease in violence, Afghanistan remains entrenched in significant humanitarian crises, as highlighted by UNAMA recently.

Among the millions in need, 5.9 million are women and 5.4 million are men, according to UNAMA’s statement, underscoring the breadth of the crisis. This sentiment is echoed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which has also drawn attention to the dire state of affairs in Afghanistan.

The roots of this crisis run deep, stemming from four decades of conflict, poverty, recurrent disasters, and a struggling economy. The situation has only worsened since the Taliban’s assumption of power in August 2021. Political instability, economic downturns, and dwindling donor funding have heightened risks and needs at the local level.

Forced deportations and diminishing international aid have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, leaving many vulnerable Afghans in dire straits. Those returning from neighboring countries face a litany of challenges, including shortages of food, clean water, suitable shelter, and job opportunities. Recent waves of migrant expulsions from neighboring nations, coupled with natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, have further underscored the urgent need for humanitarian assistance, as reported by Khaama Press.

According to TOLOnews, on May 1, the Taliban’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation reported that approximately 2,800 Afghan migrants were returned from Iran, both voluntarily and forcibly. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has described the human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women, girls, religious minorities, and ethnic minorities, as dire, emphasizing the critical need for humanitarian aid to support the 23.7 million people struggling to survive.

The report indicates that Iran and Pakistan are hosting around 7.7 million Afghan citizens, with approximately 1.6 million deported to Afghanistan since 2021. Meanwhile, Amnesty International and various human rights organizations have voiced concerns over the continued expulsion of Afghan migrants from Pakistan, calling for an immediate halt to these actions.

In summary, Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, with millions of its citizens struggling to access basic necessities and facing significant challenges in their daily lives. Urgent international intervention is required to address these pressing needs and alleviate the suffering of millions of vulnerable Afghans.

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Banking & Finance

Bank of England’s rate cut plan set to differ from Federal Reserve’s



Bank of England might be cutting interest rates ahead of the US Federal Reserve. Tune into this detailed analysis to understand the key.

As the Bank of England gears up for its upcoming decision, speculation mounts on potential interest rate cuts this summer, contrasting with investors’ expectations of a postponed easing outlook. Governor Andrew Bailey has emphasized the UK’s divergence from escalating consumer price pressures in the US, highlighting “strong evidence” of receding inflation domestically. While economists anticipate the central bank to maintain rates at a 16-year high of 5.25 per cent, attention will be on hints regarding whether policymakers view June or August as opportune moments to initiate reductions in borrowing costs.

However, a dovish shift in tone by Bailey and Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden in April caused some economists to reckon that the timing of BOE cuts may be closer to the European Central Bank — which is widely expected to act in June — than to the Federal Reserve, whose chief, Jerome Powell, has avoided offering a timeline for US easing.

Bailey expects UK inflation to fall close to his 2 per cent target in upcoming data for April, though some on the nine-member Monetary Policy Committee are still concerned over underlying price pressures. “The BOE has sounded increasingly dovish at each of its meetings this year. We think there could be a similar theme in May with policymakers having lately signaled little concern about recent upside data surprises.”

The central bank decision will be followed on Friday by gross domestic product data predicted to show the UK economy exited a shallow recession in the first quarter. Economists expect the figures to show output growing 0.4 per cent after two consecutive quarterly drops last year.

Elsewhere, a cliffhanger decision in Sweden, a likely hawkish hold in Australia and rate cuts in Brazil and Peru are among the central bank announcements due.

The US economic data calendar is light. On Friday, the University of Michigan will issue its preliminary survey of consumer sentiment for May. Confidence is expected to be little changed as Americans assess elevated prices, high interest rates and a moderating job market.

A day earlier, the government will issue weekly jobless claims figures. Applications for unemployment benefits remain near historically low levels.

In the week after the Fed held rates unchanged, several central bank officials are scheduled to speak. They include New York Fed President John Williams and the Richmond Fed’s Thomas Barkin on Monday, followed by Neel Kashkari of Minneapolis on Tuesday. Later in the week, investors will also hear from Chicago Fed President Austan Goolsbee and Fed Governor Michelle Bowman.

The Bank of Canada on Thursday will publish its annual financial system review, assessing stability risks to the country’s banking sector. Officials previously flagged concerns about homeowners’ ability to manage debt in a high-rate environment.

On Friday, economists expect Canada’s April labour force survey to show job gains remain well below the pace of population growth, bolstering an argument for policymakers to pivot to rate cuts as early as June.

Asia The Reserve Bank of Australia may amplify its hawkish tone when it meets on Tuesday in the wake of hotter-than-expected inflation gauges for the first quarter, as well as robust jobs stats. The board will consider revised growth, inflation and labour-market projections, with any revisions probably signaling no policy pivot any time soon. Overnight Index Swaps are now pricing more chance of an Aussie rate hike than a cut this year.

On Thursday, Malaysia’s central bank sets its benchmark rate and the Bank of Japan releases a summary of opinions from last month’s meeting, when Governor Kazuo Ueda’s seemingly sanguine stance on the yen helped usher in more losses for the beleaguered currency.

In data, Indonesia first-quarter economic growth is seen staying around 5 per cent year on year, while it may contract a tad versus the prior quarter. The Philippines also releases GDP data. Consumer inflation figures are due in the Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan, while China, the Philippines and Taiwan all get trade data.

Japan’s wage stats on Thursday will probably look a little glum as the outsized pay increases pledged by companies after negotiations with unions won’t fully kick in for a few more months.

Europe, Middle East, Africa On Wednesday, Sweden’s Riksbank could become the second major developed-world central bank – after the Swiss National Bank – to lower rates in what looks likely to be a cliffhanger decision.

After their meeting in March, Governor Erik Thedeen said he and colleagues expect to make their first easing move in May or June. Domestically, there are now very few obstacles to them acting sooner rather than later. Inflation has slowed and looks set to fall below the central bank’s 2 per cent target, the economy remains sluggish, and companies appear to have concluded that they won’t be able to raise prices to the extent they have in the past couple of years.

However, the krona still concerns policymakers, who’ve watched the currency weaken almost 5 per cent against the euro this year. If they decide they can’t risk further deterioration, that could be a reason to delay a first cut, much as Norway did on Friday.

On the other hand, there’s scope to argue that whatever the Swedish central bank does, the currency’s destiny is determined by other factors, including risk aversion and US bond yields. If that view wins the day, the Riksbank could well cut.

Three other monetary decisions are expected around the wider region: On Tuesday, sticky inflation may persuade Madagascar’s central bank to keep its rate at 11 per cent for a third time in a row.

Two days later, Poland’s central bank will likely also leave borrowing costs unchanged, even after April inflation stayed within its target range. Governor Adam Glapinski, who holds his briefing the following day, has repeatedly quashed expectations for rate cuts this year.

And the National Bank of Serbia on Friday is likely to keep its rate at 6.5 per cent for a 10th month, cautious to avoid premature easing while watching to see how long peers in bigger economies wait before cutting.

In the upcoming week, alongside other central bank events, a Bank for International Settlements conference in Basel will host monetary leaders from Germany to Singapore. The European Central Bank (ECB) agenda includes appearances by Belgian governor Pierre Wunsch and Executive Board members Luis de Guindos and Piero Cipollone. Additionally, a report detailing the central bank’s April 11 decision will be released on Friday. Due to public holidays occurring on various days across economies such as the UK and France, the frequency of data releases will be restricted.

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International Affairs

Dubai RTA enhances bus network with ‘Stadium’ bus station launch



Dubai RTA launches ‘Stadium’ Bus Station, improves several bus routes. This Bus Station is designed to shorten travel times.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) will unveil the new Stadium Bus Station on Friday, May 3rd. Situated near the Stadium Metro Station in Al Qusais, it’s strategically positioned to meet the rising demand for bus services.

The station aims to reduce travel times and facilitate smooth transfers to other mass transit modes, enhancing convenience for commuters across the emirate. Buses on routes 19, F22, F23A, F23, F23, F24, and W20 will start from the new bus station, while route 23 will also pass through it.

The Public Transport Agency of the Roads and Transport Authority will make some improvements to the express lines with the aim of ensuring that passengers reach their destinations faster during the trip for the following lines: 62-X02-X23- X22-X13-X25-X92-X64-. X94, and modifications will be made to the routes of the lines, including reducing the route of the X28 line to end at Agora Mall.

The Inter-city bus line E102 will be modified to serve Musaffah Bus Station on weekends and improve commuting times between Al Jaffiliya Station and Zayed International Airport Terminal A. Additionally, improvements will be made to the schedules of 30 routes, namely: 19, 23, 27, 43, 62, C04, C10, C15, C18, D03, E102, E307, E400, F08, F17, F22, F23, F23A, F24, F51, W20, X02, X13, X22, X23, X25, X28, X64, X92, X94. All these improvements take effect on 3rd May 2024.

On the same date, Route 91A will be cancelled. Commuters can use the alternative route 91 from Al Ghubaiba Bus Station to Jebel Ali Port Zone. RTA remains committed to expanding the public bus network and integrating it with other public transport means, including the metro, tram, and marine services.

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International Affairs

Hirokazu Matsuno allegedly received 10 million yen in kickbacks



Matsuno belongs to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction, formerly headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which has been recently suspected to have pooled secret funds amounting to over 100 million yen.

In a recent development that has sent shockwaves through Japanese politics, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, a prominent member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) largest faction, is under scrutiny for allegedly receiving over 10 million yen (USD 70,000) in kickbacks from fundraising events organized by his party group. The revelation comes amidst suspicions of various LDP factions amassing secret funds exceeding 100 million yen, signaling a potential scandal that could have far-reaching consequences for the political landscape.

The information, disclosed by a source close to the matter and reported by Kyodo News, a reputable non-profit cooperative news agency based in Minato, Tokyo, has intensified concerns about corruption within the highest echelons of Japanese politics. Matsuno, who belongs to the faction formerly headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, addressed the media at a regular press conference on Friday, vehemently denying any intention to resign.

“I will continue to fulfill my duties with a sense of responsibility,” Matsuno asserted, asserting that his faction is actively engaged in verifying the facts surrounding the allegations. However, the scandal has triggered a wave of investigations by prosecutors, following a criminal complaint that accuses five LDP factions, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s group, of underreporting their revenue from political fundraising parties.

Traditionally, LDP factions have set quotas for their lawmakers to sell party tickets, typically priced at 20,000 yen. Investigative sources suggest that if lawmakers exceed their quotas, the surplus income is often returned as kickbacks within certain intraparty groups, creating a clandestine system of financial transactions. The Seiwaken, or the Seiwa policy study group, the largest LDP faction, reportedly collected approximately 660 million yen in party revenue over a five-year period through 2022, according to its political funds reports.

Shockingly, revelations indicate that at least ten out of the 100 lawmakers in the Seiwaken faction have received kickbacks, with some allegedly receiving sums exceeding 10 million yen. The severity of these allegations has prompted prosecutors to contemplate interrogating the implicated lawmakers once the ongoing parliamentary session concludes on December 13.

The scandal has further tarnished the image of the LDP, which has already been grappling with accusations of financial improprieties. The fact that Matsuno, a high-ranking official within the party and a key player in the government, is implicated in the scandal adds significant weight to the controversy. The allegations also cast a shadow on the faction’s former leader, Shinzo Abe, who remains a formidable figure in Japanese politics.

The involvement of prosecutors in investigating the kickback scandal underscores the gravity of the situation. The criminal complaint targeting multiple LDP factions suggests a systemic issue within the party, raising questions about the transparency and integrity of political fundraising practices in Japan.

If proven true, the scandal could have profound implications for public trust in the political system. As the investigations unfold, there is growing speculation about the potential fallout within the LDP and the wider political landscape. Calls for accountability and transparency are resonating among the public, demanding that lawmakers uphold the highest standards of integrity.

The timing of the scandal, coming at a crucial juncture in Japanese politics, adds another layer of complexity, as the government grapples with pressing domestic and international issues. The Seiwaken faction’s reported accumulation of substantial party revenue over the years brings attention to the broader issue of political financing in Japan.

The revelation that a significant portion of this revenue may have been funneled back to lawmakers as kickbacks raises concerns about the lack of oversight and accountability in the financial dealings of political factions.

In response to the allegations, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s office released a statement expressing concern and emphasizing the need for a thorough investigation. Kishida, who leads one of the factions under scrutiny, faces the challenging task of navigating the political fallout and ensuring that his government remains focused on addressing the pressing issues facing the nation.

The kickback scandal also raises questions about the effectiveness of existing regulations and enforcement mechanisms aimed at preventing financial misconduct in Japanese politics. If proven true, the allegations could prompt a reevaluation of these mechanisms, potentially leading to reforms to strengthen oversight and accountability in political fundraising.

The implications of the scandal extend beyond individual lawmakers and factions to the broader political culture in Japan. Public trust in political institutions is a vital component of a healthy democracy, and any erosion of that trust can have lasting consequences. The LDP, as the ruling party, faces the challenge of restoring public confidence and demonstrating a commitment to transparency and ethical conduct.

As the investigations progress, it remains to be seen how the implicated lawmakers and the LDP as a whole will respond to the allegations. The outcome of the investigations will likely shape the political landscape in the coming months, influencing public perceptions and potentially reshaping the balance of power within the ruling party.

In conclusion, the kickback scandal involving Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has sent shockwaves through Japanese politics, revealing a potential web of financial improprieties within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The allegations of kickbacks, combined with suspicions of secret fund accumulation by multiple LDP factions, have ignited a firestorm of controversy that could have far-reaching implications for the political landscape in Japan. As investigations unfold, the public is keenly watching how lawmakers and party leaders respond to the allegations and whether the scandal will lead to meaningful reforms in the realm of political financing and accountability.

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