Thursday, February 25, 2010

VISION AND FORESIGHT

Rolls-Royce 10 hpImage via Wikipedia


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VISION and foresight are one, not two, of the vital ingredients of creativity because they are inseparable. Vision, by itself, is dreaming - self amusement of little practical value in life. Foresight is turning your vision into action - at the right time.

Vision is the ability to see beyond the horizon. A caged animal looks outside the bars of its prison and imagines the freedom it may have when released.

Vision is a mixture of what cannot be seen but clearly exists, plus what might exist but is by no means certain.

The formation of Rolls-Royce is an excellent example of vision and foresight. Charles Rolls and Henry Royce were men of vision and foresight: Rolls, about the growth of the high-class motor trade, and Royce, about the engineering that would attract the rich buyer.

Two very different men from opposite ends of the social scale with a single vision, they argued and disagreed, as effective partners often must, but never lost their foresight of the car industry that was to grow.

Jointly they had another vital ingredient: Timing. When they came together in 1904, motoring was just becoming a fad of the rich. They saw how it was going to develop.

All vision comes from within, whatever the external stimulus. Henry Ford saw that perfectly when he said that if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have replied "faster horses".

And this is the essence of vision: Something we had not already thought about.

Imagine the personal mobility we are going to have access to in the next 20 years. From strap-on helicopters to centrifugally-steadied scooters to pick-and-park versions of shopping cars to motorised shoes.

Another area urgently requiring vision is that of learning - yes, learning, not teaching. The internet offers the opportunity for children and, indeed, all of us, to determine not just what we want to learn but how we want to learn it.

I forecast that within a very few years we shall have children compiling their own syllabuses - with guidance but minimal interference - and studying in a way that suits them, not some artificially concocted "knowledge KPI".

Already, in a children's virtual world (www.WiglingtonAndWenks.com) that my colleagues and I have recently launched, we are finding many children writing to us saying how interesting they find the famous characters from the past whom we have included and how they, the children, have set out to extend their knowledge of history themselves.

And that is brought about by fun, not by threat.

Mentoring, too, requires a vision, as much on the part of the Mentee as on the part of the Mentor. Interesting that the internet allows the child-developed syllabus and the Mentee-developed programme to come together as a seamless, creative exploration of life and all it has to offer. That is my personal vision.

Population explosion, climate imbalance, energy shortage and extremely high expectations of a fairer and healthier planet all offer infinite opportunities for encouraging vision from those now shaping the future world.

How are we to extract the visions of the people? Not by boring checklist surveys; not by mind-blowingly dull focus groups.

Our visions will come from the dramatically simple observations of all those, especially young children, who capture thoughts and ideas without the inhibitions of teaching and training. Their innocence is an untapped source of vision and foresight.

Many years ago, one of my sons, then aged four, pointed to an aircraft overhead leaving a long, white vapour trail.

"Look, Dad," he said, "another of those planes scratching the sky."

Our future depends on the visions we conjure from "scratching the sky".

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John Bittleston mentors people in business, career and their personal lives at www.TerrificMentors.com
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From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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1 oz (Troy ounce) of fine goldImage via Wikipedia


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SINGAPORE - The gold market will likely see a softening in the next two months as the impact of the massive gold selling by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sinks in.

The IMF said on Wednesday that its second phase sale of 191.3 tons of gold will "shortly" be underway. The move is in a bid to reduce its dependence on lending revenue.

"In the short term of one to two months, there will be a bearish impact on gold prices because of the large quantity being offered," said Mr Wong Eng Soon, investment analyst at trading firm Phillip Futures.

At Wednesday's market price of US$1,120 ($1,548) an ounce, the gold to be sold by IMF would be worth nearly $9.7 billion.

To avoid disruption of the gold market, IMF said the sale would be conducted in stages and would be based on market prices.

On Thursday, spot gold price fell close to 1.8 percent to the lowest level of US$1,100.22 per ounce.

Gold futures for April delivery also dropped 1.7 per cent or US$18.50 to US$1,101 an ounce.

Analysts, however, do not see gold prices falling below US$1,065 per ounce. They said gold would recover to the US$1,200 reference level it had reached early December last year.

If there is a correction in prices, the drop in investor demand will be picked up by demand in the jewellery and industrial sectors, they said.

"Big players like the institutions may take this chance to increase their holdings. Also, India and China are the two largest consumers of gold and their economic recovery will continue strong demand for the commodity," said Mr Wong.

Central banks may also take the opportunity to increase their gold allocation; thus, providing a more bullish long-term prospect for gold.

"Net purchasing by central banks in recent quarters combined with the constraints in mine supply and stable level of recycling activity continue to make gold an ideal portfolio diversifier," said Mr Aram Shishmanian, chief executive officer of the World Gold Council (WGC).

Meanwhile, analysts reactions are mixed if this new sale might replicate the negative impact the first phase sale of 212 tons of gold had on the Australian dollar and oil prices.

WGC managing director Albert Cheng said: "Australian Dollar is more of a proxy to commodities because of its economy is hugely supported by the performance of commodities in general."

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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National emblem of the People's Republic of ChinaImage via Wikipedia


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BEIJING - Banking regulators in China have ordered institutions to tighten controls on risk and carefully scrutinise borrowers' ability to pay their debts in a new step to rein in lending.

The government order comes as Beijing tries to prevent excessive lending that it says could lead to financial problems while ensuring adequate credit to keep the economic recovery on track.

Chinese leaders are worried that a stimulus-driven torrent of lending is fuelling a dangerous bubble in stock and real estate prices. Beijing has ordered banks to set aside additional reserves and to keep lending stable, but the central bank has avoided raising interest rates, which might slow growth.

The China Banking Regulatory Commission said in a statement that it issued two regulations to increase risk management on personal and working capital loans.

The rules took effect on Feb 12.

The regulation on working capital loans stated that banks must calculate borrowers' actual needs and also consider their cash flow, liabilities, repayment abilities and other factors when assessing loan applications.

On personal lending, the regulation says that borrowers may not obtain loans if they do not specify what the money is to be used for.

Chinese leaders have warned banks repeatedly to keep lending stable this year and avoid financing real estate and industrial projects that are not needed due to fears they might fuel inflation or leave banks burdened with bad debts if poorly planned projects fail.

Banks were ordered on Feb 12 to increase reserves by half a percentage point - to 16.5 per cent for large lenders and to 14.5 per cent for smaller institutions.

The government reported earlier this month that January bank lending rocketed to 1.4 trillion yuan ($290 billion) - nearly one-fifth of the planned 2010 total. AP

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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3rd generation Toyota Prius G (2009/5 - )Image via Wikipedia


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TOKYO - Japan's transport ministry may review and improve its car recall system, reports said yesterday, as Toyota Motor Corp battles accusations it may have delayed acting on drivers' complaints.

The step reflects deepening concerns in Japan over Toyota's recalls of more than 8 million vehicles, most of them in overseas markets.

Transport Minister Seiji Maehara told Japanese lawmakers on Friday that he hopes to try to improve his agency's recall system to respond better to consumer interests, Kyodo news agency reported.

"We will consider reviewing the recall system to make it more familiar to users,"Mr Maehara told a lower house committee.

The agency may require car-makers to move more quickly to fix defects and may expand the types of problems subject to reporting requirements, according to the reports, which also included one in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. The reports cited unnamed ministry officials.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda is to appear on Wednesday before the US House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Its chairman, Mr Edolphus Towns, virtually compelled Mr Toyoda to attend last week after issuing a formal invitation for him to testify.

Toyota has not given any details of Mr Toyoda's travel plans, though the Japanese newspapers Yomiuri Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun reported he left Japan over the weekend.

Mr Maehara and other Japanese officials have applauded Mr Toyoda's decision to attend the hearing and voiced their support, saying he should use the opportunity to reassure customers angered by recalls over sticking accelerator pedals, accelerators jamming in floor mats and momentarily unresponsive brakes.

US safety regulators are also investigating complaints about power steering in the Corolla, Toyota's top-selling model worldwide, with 1.3 million sold last year. The estimated 500,000 Corollas in question in the US market are not made or sold in Japan.

As Toyota wallows in its recall mess, there has been relatively little talk here about how and why its famously impeccable quality control regime failed - and why mainly in overseas markets.

But a review by the transport ministry could focus on such issues inside Japan, where the company has recalled about 223,000 Prius hybrid cars with braking problems.

The number of complaints over quality and safety issues in the US has dwarfed those in Japan, largely because the millions of Toyota vehicles subject to recalls were made with parts not used in models made and sold in Japan. AP

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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AXA SAImage via Wikipedia


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SINGAPORE - Insurance giant AXA has appointed prominent Singapore lawyer Lee Suet-Fern (picture) to its board as an independent director.

The move is part of AXA's plans to improve corporate governance.

In October last year, AXA proposed a number of changes to its governance regime, which included the creation of a single board of directors to replace its dual board structure.

When contacted by MediaCorp, Mrs Lee said, "The appointment is a recognition of the growing importance and influence of Singapore in the world, an Asian voice with an understanding of Asia that the West trusts. It is a huge honour for Singapore."

AXA is one of the largest companies in the Fortune 500 list. No Singapore company, even those with the largest market capitalisation such as SingTel and Singapore Airlines, has ever made it to the Fortune 500 list.

AXA also owns possibly the largest publicly-traded asset manager, Alliance Berstein, which is listed in New York.

Mrs Lee is currently Senior Director of Stamford Law Corporation (Singapore).

According to AXA's website, Mrs Lee is one of two new independent directors appointed to the board. The company has 15 directors, of whom 11 are independent.

The new appointments are subject to shareholder approval. Millet Enriquez

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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Official portrait of Federal Reserve Chairman ...Image via Wikipedia


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WASHINGTON - US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke (picture) is expected to shed light this week on the central bank's sudden decision to hike an emergency bank-lending rate, triggering speculation on monetary tightening.

Mr Bernanke is scheduled to appear before the financial committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday and the Senate banking panel the next day, where his testimony will be closely scrutinised by jittery markets.

The Fed's increase on Friday of the discount rate, the interest it charges on emergency loans to banks, rattled stock markets. Investors feared the central bank might be moving faster than anticipated to withdraw critical support measures for the US economy, as it recovered from a brutal recession.

It was the first major action by the Fed to remove some of the unprecedented monetary easing measures; and also the first tinkering of interest rates by a central bank from the Group of Seven industrialised nations after emerging from recession, analysts said.

The markets were particularly concerned that the central bank was setting the stage for tightening the more significant federal funds rate, the benchmark interest rate that banks charge each other for loans now at virtually zero per cent.

"Hopefully, chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony to Congress (this) week will shed some important new light on the Fed's policy intentions," said Mr Brian Bethune, chief US financial economist of IHS Global Insight.

"It is indeed puzzling as to why the Fed made this move and announcement out of cycle with its meeting dates for 2010."

Although many had expected the Fed to raise the discount rate, considering the waning interest from banks for the short-term loan facility, the timing caught many by surprise, especially coming well ahead of the central bank's March 16 policy meeting.

If the Fed was laying the groundwork for dismantling the easy money policy critical to accelerating the US recovery, it appeared premature, analysts said.

The US economy expanded by a strong 5.7 per cent in the final 2009 quarter after 2.2 per cent growth in the preceding quarter, but unemployment near double digits is expected to persist for some time in the face of lagging job growth.

In addition, the latest consumer price data for January showed tame inflation, underscoring weak demand and still-fragile recovery from a recession that began in December 2007 and has cost more than seven million jobs.

"In some ways the timing of the Fed move is peculiar since growth is not exactly building in a clear way," said Mr Robert Brusca, chief economist at FAO Economics.

The economy "has been so weak for so long that if there is backsliding the possibility that economic weakness turns to financial catastrophe again is quite high", he added.

Bernanke is likely to sound "cautiously upbeat on growth and inflation" in his congressional testimony and focus on the "exit" strategy for the radical measures introduced to haul the world's largest economy from recession, said Mr Fabio Fois, an economist at Barclays Capital. AFP

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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Smaller cropped version, made for Template:Agr...Image via Wikipedia


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JAKARTA - Following Brazil's trail, Indonesia is encouraging foreign and local investors to lease huge swathes of fertile countryside and help make the country a major food producer.

"Feed Indonesia, then feed the world," was the recent call from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono after the government announced plans to fast-track development of vast agricultural estates in remote areas like Papua and Borneo.

Between now and 2030, Indonesia expects to become one of the world's biggest producers of rice, maize, sugar, coffee, shrimp, meats and palm oil, senior agriculture ministry official Hilman Manan said.

The world's fourth most populous country, with 235 million people, Indonesia has been self-sufficient in rice since 2008 and is already the top producer of palm oil.

"If everything goes well, Indonesia should be able to be self-sufficient in five years. And then it can start to feed the world," said Mr Sony Heru Priyanto, an expert at Satya Wacana Christian University.

The first area targeted for development is 1.6 million hectares in the south-east of the largely undeveloped province of Papua, around the town of Merauke.

The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate will, the government hopes, create thousands of jobs and turn an impoverished and neglected corner of the Indonesian archipelago into a hive of activity.

"We chose Merauke because it's the ideal place for food crop cultivation, such as rice, corn, soybean and sugar cane. Merauke district has 4.5 million hectares of land; 2.5 million hectares are ideal for cultivation," Mr Manan said.

"The area is flat and has a good climate. Its soil is appropriate for those crops. Sumatra is already congested with other plantations, such as palm oil, and Kalimantan is already full of mining areas and many plantation areas also."

He said Merauke's population of some 175,000 people could rocket to 800,000 if the plan takes off.

Foreigners will be able to control a maximum of 49 per cent of any investing company, and will be offered incentives like tax breaks and reductions in customs and excise duties.

"In order to avoid any forms of monopolies or land grabbing, we're limiting each company to a maximum of 10,000 hectares of land," Mr Manan said, stressing that the government was selling land use rights, not the land itself.

He said interest had come from Japan, South Korea and the Middle East.

But analysts said the region's biggest advantage - expanses of "empty" land - was also the main obstacle: The project will require up to US$5 billion ($7 billion) in infrastructure investments, from a new port to roads and runways.

And there is opposition from small-scale farmers who say their traditional livelihoods could be threatened by the large-scale commercialisation of agriculture.

"We reject the concept of the food estate. For us, food estates are another kind of land grabbing scheme. It's like going back to the era of feudalism," Indonesian Farmers Union official Kartini Samon said.

Such worries are well known in other countries with similar schemes, such as Brazil and Madagascar, where there is deep suspicion about food and bio-fuel companies monopolising agricultural land.

There are also fears for the rights of indigenous Papuans, who have long complained that their traditional lands are being unjustly exploited by outsiders. AFP

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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BRITISH Foreign Secretary David Miliband says it is "outrageous". The French foreign ministry has expressed its "deep concern". Even the Americans appear to be gearing up for a major diplomatic protest. And the cause of all the outrage? Not the murder, almost certainly by the Israelis, of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in Dubai. Rather, it's that the murderers used forged British and French passports - or in America's case, that they used a United States credit card to book flights to Dubai for six members of the hit squad.

Forging passports is certainly a bad thing - but is it worse than murder? To judge by the international reaction to the killing of Al Mabhouh, it is much worse. Yet it was not all that long ago that it was thought to be, well, indecent for a government to go around assassinating its enemies. When the British government sent a group of Special Air Service officers to murder suspected members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on Gibraltar, there was an enormous international outcry. Britain was hauled before the European Court and severely admonished. Would there be such a response today? Only if the killers forged their travel documents.

In the 1980s, one element of the British Army routinely helped Loyalist death squads kill suspected IRA men in Belfast. A group called the Force Research Unit handed out names, addresses and photographs of those who were thought to be on active service for the IRA to Loyalist assassins. In those days, the whole thing had to be kept secret. When one officer referred obliquely to the practice in court, his claims were very quickly denied. But the officer concerned was never tried or even admonished - in fact, he was promoted.

The United States had, and indeed still has, a presidential Executive Order, which has the force of law, stating that "no person employed by or acting on behalf of the US government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination". During the first Gulf War, General Michael Dugan was sacked as US Air Force Chief of Staff because he suggested that America was trying to kill former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. That, he insisted, was the point of most of the bombing raids on Iraq: The bombs were being dropped on places where Saddam was thought to be.

No US official advocating assassination would face the sack today. It has become an essential part of policy: America routinely uses unmanned drones to kill those it thinks are important figures in the Taliban. Only last week, a drone killed Mohammed Haqqani - the brother of a senior Afghan Taliban commander - in Waziristan. No one has objected: There hasn't even been an outcry about the additional deaths caused by these weapons, which don't discriminate between the good, the bad, and the women and children.

There is, of course, a critical difference between targeting Saddam and targeting Haqqani or Al Mabhouh. Saddam was a head of state. The others were not: They were merely members of terrorist organisations.

There is an unspoken rule that no leader should order the assassination of another. The rule is self-enforcing: Heads of state, particularly in democracies, are visible targets and even the most diligent security service cannot guarantee their safety. Aware of their own vulnerability to a determined assassin, presidents and prime ministers are eager not to establish a precedent that leaders are fair game.

Lesser mortals, however, obviously are. When Alexander Litvinenko, a former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service, was murdered by what almost everyone now believes was one of Russia's state security organisations, the British government contented itself with a relatively mild protest, and the expulsion of a few diplomats when Russia refused to extradite the chief suspect. That was it.

This apparent international consensus that assassination is a legitimate tool of foreign policy is a very sinister development. State-sponsored murder is still murder. And murder is still a worse offence than using forged passports. The Daily Telegraph

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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Silvio BerlusconiImage via Wikipedia

SEX AND BRIBERY CLAIMS ROCK BERLUSCONI IN RUN-UP TO ITALY'S REGIONAL ELECTIONS
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ROME - After shrugging off a series of sex scandals that cost him his marriage, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has found that his poll ratings have finally taken a dive as he becomes mired in yet another controversy.

Mr Berlusconi has described regional elections at the end of March as a crucial test. But they have been overshadowed by a new scandal that involves sex, bribes and the mercenary exploitation of the earthquake that struck the town of L'Aquila in April last year, killing 307 and leaving 50,000 homeless.

At the time, Mr Berlusconi's handling of the reconstruction process was seen as proof of a can-do spirit and was widely viewed as his greatest triumph since re-election in 2008. But transcripts obtained by magistrates through wire-taps have led to allegations that one of his political allies swapped rebuilding contracts for sexual favours. And the public outcry shows no sign of abating.

According to the transcripts, two building contractors boasted that ties to the government would win them lucrative work. "I was laughing at 3.30am in bed this morning," said Mr Francesco de Vito Piscicelli, referring to the precise time of the tragedy.

The magistrates wire-tapped Mr Piscicelli and have now arrested three public officials and a contractor.

Twenty-seven people are under investigation, including Mr Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy's civil protection agency, who is often seen at Mr Berlusconi's side.

"These magistrates should be ashamed of themselves," was Mr Berlusconi's first, furious reaction. But as newspapers filled with accounts of bribes and favours affecting millions of euros of contracts, the Prime Minister has retreated into an uncharacteristic silence.

Earthquake survivors have marched holding banners reading "I wasn't laughing". And according to latest polling, the number of Italians dissatisfied with Berlusconi has risen to a record high of 52 per cent.

Mr Bertolaso has insisted that the alleged "sexual favour" was no more than a massage, but admitted: "I may not have checked things well enough."

Magistrates allege that contractors such as Mr Piscicelli profited as the civil protection agency's power to issue contracts for emergencies was extended to construction projects for Rome's hosting of the 2009 world swimming championships and next year's 150th anniversary of the founding of the Italian state.

Mr Berlusconi, on trial for tax fraud and bribery, re-entered the fray timidly on Thursday, stating that the scandal involved just a handful of "scoundrels".

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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'TERMINALLY-ILL' BOMBER LIVING IN LUXURY VILLA AFTER RELEASE SPARKS FRESH FURY
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LONDON - The man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing is living with his family in a luxury villa in Libya six months after he was released from jail on compassionate grounds because he had less than three months to live.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who is suffering from terminal prostate cancer, no longer receives hospital treatment after ending the course of chemotherapy that he had been given after returning to his homeland last August.

Professor Karol Sikora, the London-based doctor who examined Megrahi and predicted he would be dead by last October, admitted last weekend that the fact the bomber is still alive might be "difficult" for the families of the 270 victims of the attack.

The latest disclosure will incense many of the relatives of those who died in the bomb blast in December 1988 when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded in mid air over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270. Most did not want Megrahi released and they suspected he would live longer than the predicted three months.

The Sunday Telegraph revealed last September that the Libyan government had paid for the medical evidence which helped Megrahi, 57, to be released. The life expectancy of Megrahi was crucial because, under Scottish rules, prisoners can be freed on compassionate grounds only if they are considered to have this amount of time, or less, to live.

One leading prostate cancer specialist, Mr Chris Parker, cast serious doubt yesterday on the wisdom of predicting that Megrahi had only three months to live - when a patient still had to undergo chemotherapy.

Megrahi is now living in a spacious two-storey villa with his wife and their five grown-up children in a prosperous suburb of Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

Prof Sikora, one of the examining doctors who examined Megrahi last Sunday, said: "My information from Tripoli is that it's not going to be long (before Megrahi dies). They stopped any active treatment in December and he has just been going downhill very slowly at home. He is on high doses of morphine (a painkiller) and it's any day now."

He suspected that Megrahi was still alive because he had received a "psychological" boost from returning to his homeland and being reunited with his family.THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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The Apollo 12 lunar module Intrepid prior to d...Image via Wikipedia

US DECISION LEAVES CHINA SHOOTING FOR MOON
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BEIJING - China aims to land its first astronauts on the moon within a decade at the dawn of a new era of manned space exploration - a race it now leads thanks to the United States decision to drop its lunar programme.

US President Barack Obama earlier this month said he planned to drop the costly Constellation space programme, a budget move that would kill off future moon exploration if it is approved by Congress.

In contrast, China has a fast-growing human spaceflight project that has notched one success after another, including a spacewalk by astronauts in 2008, with plans for a manned lunar mission by around 2020.

The turnaround is viewed as yet another example of the Asian power's rising profile and technical prowess.

"Overall, China is behind the US in technology and in actual presence in space - the US operates dozens of satellites, the Chinese only a few," said Mr James Lewis, of the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

"The real concern is the trend: China's capacities are increasing while the US, despite spending billions of dollars, appears to be stuck in a rut."

The Americans have achieved the only manned lunar missions, making six trips from 1969 to 1972.

But China has been gaining in the space race after launching a manned programme in 1992, and sending its first astronaut into space in 2003.

Only Russia and the US had previously put a man into space independently.

China aims to launch an unmanned rover on the moon's surface by 2012 ahead of the manned lunar mission a decade from now.

"It is not a very expensive space programme but it is relatively well worked out in terms of autonomy, efficiency and independence," said Ms Isabelle Sourbes Verger, a France-based specialist on the Chinese space programme.

Some experts have questioned Beijing's timeframe for landing a man on the moon, but Mr Peter Cugley, a China specialist at the non-profit research centre CNA in the US, says the actual timing is not that relevant.

"Even if a PRC (Chinese) manned lunar landing doesn't happen in the timeframe initially established, the technical expertise gained and boost in national prestige is what the Chinese Communist Party is most interested in," he said.

China sees its space programme as a symbol of its global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the formerly poverty-stricken nation.

Experts see its push for the moon, while Washington backs off, as further confirmation of its emergence as a superpower. "I see it as a confirmation of America's decline," said Mr Lewis.

China also has pursued its space ambitions efficiently. The Constellation programme had already cost US$10 billion ($14.1 billion), or nearly 10 times more than the entire Chinese space programme, according to official data.

Mr Fu Song, the vice dean of the School of Aerospace at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said Mr Obama's decision was unlikely to spur China to ramp up its space programme, saying its development would remain on a steady course.

But Beijing has other significant Asian competitors to reckon with as it vies to become the second nation to put a man on the moon.

India landed a lunar probe in 2008, and a top official said last month it was targeting a manned space mission in 2016. Japan, meanwhile, launched its first lunar satellite in June last year. AFP

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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Nightscape of the high-rise section of Dubai, ...Image via Wikipedia


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DUBAI - The assassins of a senior Hamas militant in Dubai made use of diplomatic passports, the Gulf emirate's police chief said yesterday, as he warned of a mole within the ranks of the Palestinian group.

Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, meanwhile, said the killing was carried out by Israel's spy agency Mossad with the green light and blessing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"There is information that Dubai police will not make public for the moment, especially regarding diplomatic passports" used by some of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's killers to enter Dubai, police chief Dahi Khalfan said in Al-Bayan newspaper.

Mabhouh, a founder of the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, was found dead in his hotel room in Dubai on Jan 20.

Last week, Mr Khalfan released the names and photos of 11 murder suspects with European passports - six from Britain, three from Ireland, one from Germany and one from France.

The use of European passports has sparked a diplomatic furore in which Israeli envoys in the four countries have been summoned for talks.

But on Saturday, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon insisted there would be no diplomatic crisis with Europe over the use of foreign passports in the Mabhouh murder "as Israel had nothing to do with what happened".

Mr Khalfan, however, has said he is "99, if not 100 per cent" sure that Mossad was behind the assassination, and added on Saturday that Dubai had evidence, including wiretaps, of the agency's role.

The Sunday Times said the killing was personally approved by Mr Netanyahu, citing sources with knowledge of Mossad.

The Premier met members of the hit squad at Mossad headquarters shortly before they travelled to Dubai, according to the Sunday Times, and authorised the mission, which was not seen as complicated or risky.

As quoted on Sunday in another Emirati daily, Al-Ittihad, Mr Khalfan said that Mabhouh's killing was "no longer a local issue, but a security issue for European countries".

Al-Ittihad said Mr Khalfan has called for Hamas to conduct an internal investigation "about the person who leaked information on Mabhuh's movements" and arrival in Dubai to his killers.

The source of the leak was the "real killer," Mr Khalfan was quoted as saying.

Two Palestinians have been arrested in Jordan and extradited to Dubai, where they are being held in connection with Mabhouh's death, according to Mr Khalfan.

Meanwhile, the six British citizens whose identities were stolen and used by the killers all had their passports taken away from them briefly during routine checks at the Tel Aviv airport, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Diplomatic sources said ministers have been briefed that the passport fraud was committed by immigration officials who stopped the British nationals, who all now live in Israel, as they went through the airport during recent trips.

The UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs, Mr Anwar Gargash, also yesterday urged European investigators to launch full-scale probes into how the fraudulent passports, that do not require advance UAE visas, had been used by the hit squad.

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010
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