International Papers

Hell in the Pacific

The Pacific press is rife with headlines of economic foreboding. Singapore’s Straits Times reports the “slowdown in growth for the second quarter was across all sectors–and is the lowest growth rate in 12 years.” The government pledges that the country’s competitiveness will not erode. Papua New Guinea’s Post Courier announces that the PNG government, which depends on substantial foreign aid from Australia, is asking the Aussies for a six month dole advance. Even so, Prime Minister Bill Skate assures the interviewer that this is not a sign of “dire economic strife.” The data dump from the Korea Times predicts that country’s economy will shrink by 5 percent to 6 percent this year. Bank of Korea spokesman Lee Seong-tae opines that the “economic outlook is getting worse than was anticipated.”

The economic news in Australia highlights a surprising budget surplus. The national papers are varying in their response to this good news. The Sydney Morning Herald reports the treasury is aware that the $1.2 billion surplus does not mean Australia is now immune to the Asian crisis. Melbourne’s Age sees the new figures as denoting “bigger-than-expected tax cuts” in the future, a sentiment that dueled with a quotation from the minister of finance in the Morning Herald: “This Government is not in the business of looking for cuts.” The proposed tax package, described by the prime minister in the Australian as the biggest tax change in Australia since World War II, includes a fixed 10 percent goods and service tax, which would “clean up the indirect tax system” and create jobs in the process. The package will also reduce taxes on families, extend various personal tax cuts, make changes in the social security tax, and make way for an “overhaul” of business taxes.

A unified press criticizes the ruling coalition (the Liberal and National parties) for using the tax plan as an election trump card, and an Age editorial blasts the government, noting that there has been “little headway against unemployment, manufacturing export growth has slowed, and the innovation culture was receding.”

Covering its citizens abroad, the Australian reports that a Somalian arrested in connection with the embassy bombing in Tanzania was carrying an Australian passport. Many Pacific countries are tightening their security as a result of the bombings in Africa. The U.S. State Department has warned that its embassy in Malaysia (along with those in other countries) is under threat. Malaysia’s prime minister responded in Kuala Lumpur’s Star, saying the announcement was misleading, as it would displace attention from other countries where the threat is very real, whereas “there are no terrorist activities” in Malaysia. Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times also reports increased security precautions by the United States in that country.

Indonesia’s Daily Express also reports rumors propagated on the Internet predicting disturbances between Indonesian Muslims and non-Muslims in a popular shopping district. The Indonesian press and Singapore’s Straits Times discount the rumors as utterly false, citing the deplorable readiness of people to believe everything they read on the Internet.

Thailand, meanwhile, has discovered a solution to its ubiquitous drug problem. Two high government officials were reported as discussing the matter, with one condoning extreme measures when it came to treatment of drug dealers. “Does that measure mean shooting them?” asked one. The response: “You can do whatever with them. We have a population of 61 million, 30 million should be sufficient. Do a vasectomy!”