Pakistanis expect ties with U.S. to remain tense after Obama win

PakistanISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Like the rest of the world, Pakistan watched keenly the electrifying finish to the U.S. presidential election that culminated in President Obama’s victory. But for most Pakistanis, the enthusiasm stops there.

Any change in Pakistan’s caustic relationship with the U.S. in the next four years is likely to be viewed through the prism of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal region -- two war-ravaged places where Washington and Islamabad desperately want lasting stability but disagree sharply about how to achieve it.

Both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney touted similar Afghanistan-Pakistan game plans that involve commitments to a U.S. troop pullout from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and a continued reliance on drone missile strikes to cripple Al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups ensconced in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Pakistanis remain deeply skeptical of Washington’s withdrawal strategy in Afghanistan. They worry the U.S. will maintain a strong presence in Afghanistan long after 2014, principally as a perch from which to ensure extremist groups do not gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal. And a continuation, at least for now, of the drone campaign — seen by most Pakistanis as a blatant encroachment of their country’s sovereignty — will perpetuate the intense animosity many Pakistanis have for Washington’s policies.

“The perception here is that U.S. policy is not going to undergo a major change, in terms of the Af-Pak region,” said Raza Rumi, an analyst with the Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad think tank. “U.S. troops will withdraw in 2014. ... But the security establishment—the military, intelligence agencies, defense analysts—feels the U.S. won’t disappear from the region. It will be watching Pakistan closely. More importantly, it will keep Pakistan’s nuclear assets under scrutiny.

“So the Pakistani state is slightly edgy as to what the U.S. wants once Afghanistan is over,” Rumi added. “How will the U.S. observe Pakistan, and what steps will it take?”

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China, U.S., Europe battling over a shrinking global-trade pie

Chinese container ship bringing goods to Port of Long Beach
In polite, diplomatic language, China this week accused Eurozone leaders of piling up debts that threaten a global economic crisis, and the Europeans countered with complaints that Beijing manipulates its currency to unfairly skew trade in its favor.

GlobalFocusThe subtle verbal shots fired on the fringes of the Asia-Europe Summit in Vientiane, Laos, echo a theme raised during the U.S. presidential election, when Republican challenger Mitt Romney vowed to take up the gauntlet of a trade war he said had been thrown down by China.

 Both battles reflect the fear and uncertainty confronting the world's biggest economies in this fifth year of stalled growth and persistent recession, trade experts say. And with little hope on the horizon for revving the main economic engines any time soon, the rhetoric and posturing are likely to grow sooner than the rivals' bottom lines.

The European Union is China’s largest trading partner, and the sovereign debt crisis afflicting the 17 nations that use the euro common currency has been cutting into Europeans’ ability to buy Chinese goods. On Monday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told the European delegates that they needed to come up with “a clear and reliable" plan for resolving the debt crisis that is stifling growth and trade.

French President Francois Hollande countered with a swipe at China’s artificially suppressed currency value, which makes Chinese products cheaper than they should be and contributes to the trade imbalance favoring Beijing.

"Europe has always trusted the market on condition that the rule of reciprocity is the same for everyone," Hollande said, alluding to the artificially set value of the Chinese yuan, also known as the renminbi. "We need to have equal exchange. We believe in an open market system."

Trade and economic analysts say China has moved some distance to correct currency distortion over the last few years, with the yuan exchange rate improving from more than 8 to the dollar to 6.29 on Tuesday. That’s close to a 25% appreciation, most of it in the last four years, noted Perry Wong, director of research for the Milken Institute and a frequent visitor to China.

Some economists set the actual value at closer to 5 yuan to the dollar, but full correction cannot be accomplished overnight, Wong said.

"Transformation in China will take time. In terms of structural change, for them to rely less on exports and import more goods from foreign countries, and to promote the quality of labor in China, will take years," Wong said. Most countries intervene to some degree to "more fully accommodate their own domestic economic agendas," he added, including the U.S. Federal Reserve Board policy of quantitative easing.

Wen Jiabao at Asia-Europe Summit in LaosChina’s alarm over the European debt crisis is justified, as it could portend a coming period of global economic upheaval, said Bruce Abramson, a partner with the Rimon Law Group and an expert in valuation, intellectual property, trade and competition.

"The Eurozone crisis is likely to spread into a global monetary crisis. It’s a testament to the Eurocrats that they have held it together as long as they have," said Abramson, predicting a five- to 10-year period of recession or feeble growth on the continent, in the United States and potentially in China. Growth this year in China's economy is pegged at 7.4%, down from 10% to 12% only a few years ago.

The persistent pressures presage more friction over trade rules and practices, Abramson said.

"Economic growth is a necessary prerequisite for peace, tolerance, acceptance -- all kinds of good things. But when the pie is shrinking, everybody, whether local, individual or national, worries about how to hold on to what they already have."

When you’ve got 10 people vying for control of only nine things of value, "you either learn how to make more things or how to have fewer people," he said. "More things is economic growth. Fewer people is war."

Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Asia Society, said voices within China's centrally planned economy are gaining strength in their calls for structural reforms that would boost wages and social services for Chinese workers and find a better trade balance by allowing the currency to float to its actual exchange value.

"China is making preliminary steps toward making its economy less oriented toward exports, but the economy is still massively oriented toward exports," Metzl said, pegging the share of its output sold abroad at 70%.

That imbalance will persist as long as the yuan is undervalued and workers are underpaid, Metzl said.

"Certainly recession in Europe and sluggish growth in the United States are harming China’s ability to export. But unless China undertakes significant structural reforms, growth in China is very likely to continue to decelerate because of the inherent problems and imbalances," he said.

China’s communist government also plays "way too strong a role in the domestic economy," he added, which stifles innovation in the private sector that would make Chinese products more competitive and foster a healthier global trade environment.

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Follow Carol J. Williams at www.twitter.com/cjwilliamslat

Photo: A China Shipping Container Lines Co. vessel enters the Port of Long Beach this week. The U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to release trade balance data on Thursday. Credit: Tim Rue / Bloomberg

Insert: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrives at the Asia-Europe Summit in Vientiane, Laos, on Tuesday. Credit: Barbara Walton / European Pressphoto Agency


Scandal threatens South Korea nuclear-export ambitions

Koreanuclear

A scandal threatens to hamper South Korea's efforts to sell its nuclear technology around the globe as it shuts down several of its own nuclear reactors to investigate how some of their parts were approved.

South Korean officials recently discovered that safety certificates for some of their reactors' parts had been forged. The subsequent closures could put the country at risk of power shortages this winter.

Government authorities have stressed that the parts in question are “ordinary” pieces,  such as fuses and power switches, that aren't directly tied to reactor safety, the publicly funded news agency Yonhap reported Monday. The shutdown has nonetheless cast an unflattering light on the industry as South Korea tries to make its name abroad.

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in nearby Japan, “they’re trying to create an image of quality and safety,” said Edwin Lyman, senior scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Any issue with quality assurance certificates should be seen as a big black eye for their efforts.”

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U.S. election party in Beijing: part celebration, part education

IMG_20121107_121751
BEIJING -- Flavia Wang, Ashley Xu and Thomas Liu, all graduate students at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, were casting ballots for Barack Obama here in the basement of a Marriott hotel on Wednesday morning. Before making their selections, they posed for photos with some cardboard cutouts of the president and Mitt Romney, standing stiffly in a back corner of the ballroom. 

George Bai was also voting for Obama. "It's easier to select an old friend," said Bai, whose son just started at UCLA this fall as a freshman. "We know more about him."

The votes of Bai, Wang, Xu and Liu (all Chinese citizens) won't actually be tallied in the American presidential race -- the mock balloting was part of an election party hosted by the U.S. Embassy. A crowd of several hundred turned out for the event, which was part celebration, part education: Americans were enjoying the giddy atmosphere of an election too close to call, while trying to explain the intricacies of the electoral college to foreign friends sipping coffee and eating Danish pastries.

Embassy staff handed out books in Chinese with such titles as "The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media" and "A Journey Shared: The United States and China, 200 Years of History."

At at table decorated with American flags, Romney backers John and Terri Tennant of Sacramento were watching big screens displaying CNN and BBC election coverage. The couple, who work in the high-tech sector and came to Beijing 2 1/2 years ago, said watching the election from the Chinese vantage point gave them a new perspective.

"The two main candidates have been talking about China a lot in the campaign, and not in a very friendly way," Terri Tennant said. "We're here in China because our business brought us here. I think all the anti-China talk has been very off-putting. Not just for Chinese, but for Americans who are here too."

Ambassador Gary Locke addressed the crowd, confessing that his family was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. "Across America, these kinds of gatherings are being replicated in homes and churches," he said, adding that more than the presidency was at stake -- many local and state races were also being conducted.

Another embassy staff member pointed out that Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota were voting on gay marriage measures, while other states were voting on whether to legalize marijuana.

Huang He, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences specializing in American culture and society, was eagerly checking an electoral college map at a makeshift Internet cafe in the center of the ballroom. He had spent one year in Dayton, Ohio, and was eagerly tracking the tally in that swing state.

"As a Chinese, I would vote for Obama, but if I were an American, I would vote for Romney," he said. "Maybe in the far future, scholars will see that Obama has put in some policies that helped the economic recovery, but in the short term, voters cannot see much improvement."

The U.S. election happens to coincide this year with a once-in-a-decade turnover in China's top leadership as well: On Thursday, China's Communist Party will kick off its 18th party congress. According to a transition plan telegraphed five years ago, Xi Jinping is slated to become party secretary, replacing Hu Jintao as the country's top leader.

A host of strict security measures -- from stopping the sales of knives in supermarkets to forcing taxis to disable their window handles -- has been implemented ahead of the party congress in Beijing. Internet speeds have also slowed to a crawl, a phenomenon widely attributed to authorities' desire to clamp down on dissent ahead of the event.

Paul Girard, a 16-year-old from France who attends high school in Beijing, said the contrast between the two systems was striking.

"Now people are voting in America, and here you can't even sell knives. The Internet is down because of the party congress," he said at the Marriott, standing with some classmates. "I don't understand why they take such measures. No one's going to do anything, because no one knows what's happening here in China anyway."

Asked whether ordinary Chinese were paying much attention to the party congress,  Xu, one of the graduate students, said: "Everyone knows the outcome of that -- it's Xi Jinping!" But as for the details, Wang added: "They don't tell us much. We don't know much about it, because we are just commoners."

Xu, Wang and Liu then took the opportunity to ask this American some questions about the U.S. electoral system. "Why do they call Obama a socialist?" Liu wondered.

Xu expressed pessimism that China could ever have a democratic election like the one playing out on the video screens before her. "Maybe another form of democracy, but not with all the people voting," she said.

Liu was more optimistic: "Maybe in 10 or 20 years."

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-- Julie Makinen 

Photo: Chinese guests pose for photos in front of a faux polling station at a party hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Credit: Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times

 

 


Laos to begin building hotly debated Xayaburi dam this week

Laosdam

Laos plans to start building a dam on the Mekong River this week, a step that neighboring Cambodia and Vietnam fear could imperil fish and cripple rice fields.

The Xayaburi dam is expected to reap profits for Laos by generating hydropower to sell to Thailand. The $3-billion-plus project would be the first major dam on the lower part of the Mekong, a massive waterway that provides food and jobs to millions of people in Southeast Asia.

Building the dam marks the latest push toward development for Laos, a growing economy seeking to shed its “least developed country” label. The communist country has opened up its economy over the last few decades and was recently accepted into the World Trade Organization.

“Hydropower is a big natural advantage for Laos,” Deputy Minister of Energy and Mining Viraphonh Viravong told Bloomberg on Monday.

But Vietnam and Cambodia worry dams could endanger fish that families eat and hurt crops in the Mekong Delta, the “rice bowl” of the region. Environmental experts warn if fish dwindle and croplands are lost, damming the river could cost more than it brings in. A Portland State University study last year estimated losses could run as high as $274 billion if a passel of planned dams are built.

A regional report recommended waiting for more studies to assess the dangers, but Laos has pressed ahead.

“They are playing roulette with the Mekong River,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers. “There are serious risks for the river and the people who depend on it.”

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If China voted, it would be Obama in a landslide, surveys show

Which candidate would the Chinese pick if they could vote at the U.S. polls? At least three surveys indicate that it would be President Obama by a landslide
BEIJING -- China has been a big issue in the American presidential race. Which candidate would the Chinese pick if they could vote at the U.S. polls? At least three surveys indicate that it would be President Obama by a landslide. 

Unscientific online polls conducted Tuesday by the Global Times and Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like service, showed the incumbent trouncing GOP challegner Mitt Romney. Through Tuesday afternoon, the Global Times poll showed 81% of more than 4,500 respondents favoring Obama, while Sina Weibo’s survey drew more than 2,500 responses, 78% of them supporting the president. 

A more scientific AFP-Ipsos online poll, conducted in late September, showed 63% of about 800 Chinese respondents wanted Obama to be reelected.

In that survey, 58.3% of respondents said they thought Obama would be the best U.S. president for Asian economic growth, while 56.3% said Obama was better for peace and security in Asia. Romney was most popular with older Chinese and in inland areas and less developed, second-tier cities. 

Romney has vowed throughout the campaign that he would label China as a currency manipulator on his first day in the White House. The candidates have repeatedly traded barbs on who would be tougher on China from a trade and jobs perspective. 

Although the AFP-Ipsos poll found that only 43% of respondents regarded the U.S. election as "very important" or "somewhat important," there was a significant amount of online chatter about the race Tuesday. The U.S. presidential vote was the fourth-hottest topic on Sina Weibo. (No. 8, it must be noted, was "Will bananas become the main source of sustenance for humans?")

"Everyone in my office almost stopped doing their jobs and started to discuss tonight's U.S. presidential election," wrote one Sina Weibo user named Lt. Eating Chicken Nuggets. "They talked from Reagan to Romney, everyone became a political expert!"

Another commented: "I predict Obama will win tonight and be re-elected. From a global perspective, Obama will treat the world better. This world will not accept another Bush Junior! I believe most Americans would agree with me on that."

But Romney is not without his supporters in China. Li Daokui, director of the Center for China in the World Economy at Tsinghua University who has served as an advisor to China's central bank, said he favored the Republican.

Although Li said there is no difference between the two candidates’ China policies, he predicted Obama would face a lot of resistance on Capitol Hill if reelected.

"If I'm an American, I would vote for the person whose policy would benefit the U.S. economy most. That's why I choose Romney," he wrote on his blog. "Romney looks to be a right-wing leader, but he actually does a lot of things as a left-wing leader. He was very pragmatic when he was the governor of Massachusetts. As a president, it would be easier for him to work with the Congress and push forward some necessary reforms."

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-- Julie Makinen

Tommy Yang in the Times Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

Photo: President Obama addresses a large crowd in Iowa on Monday during his final rally of the 2012 campaign. Credit: Steve Pope / EPA


Notes on Peking opera, propaganda, and China's party congress

121104 Bazhou, Hebei XINHUA-LIU Bin62
BEIJING -- What’s more irresistible to China's propaganda machine than an American reporter in a red hard hat? An American reporter in a Peking opera costume.

These were among the hard journalistic lessons learned on a weekend bus tour arranged by the media center of China’s 18th Communist Party Congress. 

China’s once-in-a-decade senior leadership transition doesn’t kick off until Thursday, but this is a highly scripted event, with no last-minute campaign rallies or get-out-the-vote events to cover. Lest the 1,000-plus reporters expected in Beijing start looking around for juicy stories on their own (and there are many, from government corruption to self-immolations in Tibet), the official media center has arranged some bus tours to keep journalists busy.  

Forget Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City or Mao’s mausoleum –- the idea is to showcase China’s cultural and economic achievements over the last 10 years, and how it’s progressing in accordance with, among other things, outgoing leader Hu Jintao’s principle of “scientific development.” The stops on the weekend itinerary included an abandoned steel plant that’s under redevelopment, a calligraphy clubhouse, a bicycle museum and a ping-pong training center. 

I had already written up several Party Congress articles, and decided to go along more as a weekend diversion. I was willing to brave a few turgid speeches by local party secretaries and maybe a regimented performance of a patriotic song in exchange for a free ride to some sites off the beaten path; after all, I’ve never been inside an old steel factory furnace. Perhaps in spite of all the stage-managing, I thought, I’d meet some interesting journalists, or find a kernel of an idea for a kitschy feature story. What I wasn’t prepared for was becoming the story.

Forty-five minutes into our first stop -- an old Shougang Group steel factory on Beijing’s western outskirts that officials hope to make into an arts district and something called a “comics, animation and game city” -- I had been approached not only by Shougang’s in-house TV crew documenting the visit, but also by representatives from the official New China News Agency, Sinovision New York and China Radio International. Though I think it’s both lazy and boring to interview fellow reporters, these media reps had no such qualms. 

Some wanted to talk about the steel plant. Others wanted to ask my opinions about the 18th Party Congress. I wasn’t alone. A Japanese writer and an American radio journalist were besieged too. Truth be told, these reporters were in a tough spot if their editors were expecting the tour to yield a compelling story, but I really didn’t see how we could help them. I tried to demur, or when that didn’t work, I offered really vague, dull responses.

Gradually, it became evident that many of these reporters were under orders to write up stories about the visits -- not about what they saw, but who was with them, taking in the achievements and grand plans of the party. The American radio reporter, for instance, would become the lead for a scintillating piece on the People’s Daily website headlined, “Foreign reporters eye diverse issues at congress.”  

IMG_20121103_123235[1]As we were led up into a massive smokestack-like contraption that was closed in 2010, we were all given red hard hats. That was the cue for the crew from state-run CCTV: Spotting me in my headgear, they turned tail on the local party official reciting facts on steel production. The cameraman fired up his lights, an assistant popped forward to straighten my cap, and a reporter thrust a microphone toward me.

“How many stories will you write about the 18th Party Congress?” she asked, ignoring the official giving his speech. 

I scratched my head, mumbled and looked off camera, doing everything short of picking my nose in an attempt to make the footage completely unusable.

The next day, I came back prepared with a more aggressive strategy, or so I thought. Fifteen minutes into a tour of the Bazhou city museum in Hebei province, another CCTV crew approached me. “What are the critical issues of the 18th Party Congress?” the reporter queried.

“Tibet, corruption, the purge of politician Bo Xilai, and questions about Premier Wen Jiabao’s $2.7-billion family fortune,” I said with a smile, knowing that there was no way that answer, laden with hot-button subjects, would make it on air. The reporter frowned. 

I thought I had escaped. I fended off further advances, from Hebei radio, Hebei TV and other outlets. Little did I know, there was one last brilliant trap waiting for me. 

It was at the Bazhou City theater. Right after we “stumbled” upon some senior citizens rehearsing a song called “Without the Communist Party, There Is No New China,” we were led upstairs to a gallery documenting the works of a local Peking opera hero. After that, we were taken to a Peking opera theater on the fourth floor. 

Tea was poured. Some local elementary school kids performed acrobatic stunts. The vice mayor of Bazhou belted out a tune. Then, a few reporters were invited on stage to try out some musical instruments.

I sat in the audience, checking my phone and thinking about lunch. Suddenly, the emcee called out from the stage, breaking from rapid-fire Chinese.

“Hello!” he bellowed in English. 

I looked up. Yep, he was talking to me. I shook my head twice, three times. But the rest of the press herd knew if I were to go on stage, they’d get their shot of the day. A few shouts of encouragement went up. At this point, even if I had bolted for the exit, I’m pretty sure I would have been tackled. 

A sinking feeling came over me as I assessed the score and mounted the stage: Communist Party Propaganda Machine, 1; American journalist, zippo.  

I smiled at the emcee. The other reporter on stage, a Chinese guy, mumbled to me in English that this was awkward. Peking opera costumes were presented. Wouldn’t we like to try them on? Oh, and how about trying to sing too?

Cameras clicked. Videotape rolled. I would end the day without a decent story in my notebook, but the Chinese press went home delighted.  

The next day, a British friend emailed me with unrestrained schadenfreude. “Fame and Glory,” he poked, forwarding links from the media center’s official website. “You are officially the (white) face of the Party Congress!”

I opened the link. The main headline blared: “The 18th Party Congress news center organizes Chinese and foreign reporters to visit Hebei’s Bazhou City and have a look and gather news!” Underneath it, there I was, in all my Peking opera finery. Oh, the horror.

My mood quickly changed, though, when I saw just how long the article was: eight pages, documenting every last tedious inch of the cultural sites of Bazhou City. I wondered: How many more such reports is this poor writer  going to have to churn out between now and the end of the Party Congress on Nov. 15? 

Being included in a propaganda piece is a momentary ignominy. But I’m counting my lucky stars: It sure as heck beats having to write them.

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-- Julie Makinen

Photos: Your humble correspondent, top, on stage Sunday at the Liu Xiaochun Small Opera Tower in Bazhou City,  and bottom, on site Saturday at the Shougang steel works' third furnace, which closed in 2010. The factory has been relocated outside Beijing, and there are plans to redevelop the area with commercial and residential projects.


Ahead of China's party congress, ex-leaders pop up to show clout

Hu
BEIJING –- Apropos of seemingly nothing, the TV program “Music World Today” on China’s state-run channel 15 launched into a 30-minute segment Friday about a schmaltzy, obscure tune, “Moonlight and Shadows,” from the 1936 American film “The Jungle Princess.” But invited guest Chen Lin, a 90-year-old professor from Beijing Foreign Studies University, quickly clued viewers in to its significance.

This spring, he said, he received a call from Li Lanqing, who served as vice premier under President Jiang Zemin from 1998 to 2003. The former president, now 86, was urgently looking for the sheet music for the song, which he had enjoyed as a young man in his revolutionary days, Li said. Chen helped a composer notate the melody and words. (Sample lyric: “Even in shadows, I feel no alarm, while I hold you tight, in the jungle light, my dear ...”)

“This beautiful romantic song, for it to be able to reappear, to be restored, and for us to be able to remember it, all the credit should go to our comrade Jiang Zemin,” Chen said on the program.

As China prepares to begin a major Communist Party leadership transition next week, hardly a day goes by without a fresh TV or newspaper report highlighting the recent activities of a former leader, many of whom have been out of the limelight for years. 

While the appearances by and references to the retired cadres may seem awkward, comical or just downright dull, analysts say they serve a purpose: They’re telegraphing that these old-timers are alive, well and trying to play a role in shaping policy and determining appointments ahead of the 18th Party Congress.

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Japan politicians play 'game of chicken' over financial cliff

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
TADANOUMI, Japan -- Locked in a political standoff over a crucial budget bill, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is under mounting pressure to hasten elections -- a step likely to push his party out of power.

The budget bill, which would allow the Japanese government to borrow more than $480 billion, is needed to plug a gaping deficit that could force the country to make sweeping cuts. The government called an extra session of parliament to try to pass the bill this fall, warning that Japan could run out of money in November if lawmakers don’t patch the hole.

But opponents of Noda and his ruling Democratic Party of Japan have argued that the prime minister should first set the date for general elections, which would likely put his increasingly unpopular party in jeopardy.

Noda is not required to call elections until next summer but promised in August to do so “soon” to win opposition backing for other bills. Shinzo Abe, president of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, insisted Wednesday that Noda should dissolve the lower house of parliament before the end of the year. The opposition has so far blocked the budget bill in protest.

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Myanmar, Laos see large increase in opium cultivation, U.N. says

NEW DELHI -- Despite stepped-up eradication efforts by the government, the amount of land used to grow opium in Myanmar increased 17% during 2011, the sixth straight annual increase, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is the second-largest opium grower in the world after Afghanistan. In contrast with Afghanistan's production, which tends to be on larger plots and on a more industrial scale, growers in Myanmar tend to work smaller fields in remote border highlands areas.

Land devoted to opium production in neighboring Laos, meanwhile, grew 66%, albeit from a far smaller base, while in Thailand it declined by 4%, according to the report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. The area where the three countries meet, called the Golden Triangle, has been a notorious region for drug production and smuggling for decades.

"The opium numbers continue to head in the wrong direction," Gary Lewis, the U.N. office's regional representative, said in a statement from Bangkok, Thailand. "Unless the farmers have a feasible and legitimate alternative to give them food security and reduce their debt, they will continue to plant poppy."

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