SYDNEY, Feb. 13 - Chinese visitors have a high regard for Australia's agricultural products and more will be attracted to the nation's natural and beautiful environment, a member of a visiting Chinese media group said on Friday.

"Chinese people think of Australia as having a lot of abundant resources and a beautiful environment," Zhang Kun, chief editor of the China Youth Daily, told Fairfax Media.

"It's a developed country with high technology and good food," said Zhang, who was part of an 18-member Chinese media group touring Australia this week.

The visit, supported by the University of Technology - Sydney Center for Independent Journalism, was designed to raise more awareness of Australia to Chinese people.

Zhang said Australia's milk products, particularly long-life and powdered milk, were best known to Chinese shoppers.

He believed Australia was becoming a star attraction for Chinese holiday travelers.

Zhang said China's recent free trade agreement plans with Australia did not yet mean much to average Chinese, but such relationships would strengthen understanding between communities, including media opportunities, in both countries. (Xinhua)

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 13 - Local entrepreneurs especially operators of Bumiputera small and medium enterprises (SMEs) need more detailed information on the Asean Eonomic Community (AEC) market to benefit from it, says the Malay Economic Action Council (MTEM).

"They are really looking forward for the opportunity to play a more meaningful role in the AEC, especially with Malaysia chosen as host for the AEC in 2015," MTEM chief executive officer Nizam Mahshar said.

But as some local entrepreneurs have no foreign trading experience, practical international exposure for them would be greatly welcomed, he said in a statement here today.

"Without guidance, they could risk failure and this could derail efforts to promote local products in the ASEAN region," he said, adding local corporate and government-linked companies could provide practical guidance for entrepeneurs wishing to venture into the AEC market.

The government should also create an agency, to be called the Federal Bumiputera Entrepreneurs Agency, to supervise, monitor and empower Bumiputera entrepreneurs, he said.

Nizam said such a role was once played by the now defunct Entrepreneur Development Ministry, and a similar entity should be created but with a more systematic implementation and goal effectiveness strategy.

"In the face of a more open market like the AEC, Bumiputera status is meaningless to a company as the yardstick comprises mainly competitiveness, capability and performance measures," he said.

MTEM is now developing a database on credible Bumiputera entrepreneurs and companies for reference by potential clients, he added. (BERNAMA)

SEJONG, Feb. 13 - South Korean household income grew 3.4 percent on-year in 2014 as more people found employment, but consumption lagged behind income growth, a government report showed Friday.

According to the report by Statistics Korea, the monthly income of households with two members or more stood at an average of 4.3 million won (US$3,875) last year, up from 4.16 million won in the year before.

Inflation-adjusted household income also moved up 2.1 percent over the same period.

The report attributed the increase to more people joining the workforce that resulted in better earnings by household members. It claimed the faster pace of growth compared with the previous year contributed to the rise in income.

The government said some 530,000 new jobs were created last year compared with 440,000 for 2013. The country is estimated to have grown 3.4 percent vis-a-vis 3 percent growth confirmed for 2013.

The report showed that households' earned income increased 3.9 percent on-year to a monthly average of 2.87 million won. Households' business-related income rose 0.5 percent to 862,200 won.

"The rise in earned income was the single largest factor for last year's income increase," an official at the statistics agency said.

She said household spending likewise increased 2.8 percent to 2.55 million won, with the pace of growth accelerating from 0.9 percent in 2013.

On the other hand, while spending outpaced income growth in 2013, the reverse happened last year, which may be related to developments like the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April that seriously sapped private consumption, the official said.

The findings showed people spending more on transportation and recreation and other services, while cutting back on telecommunication, housing and utilities.

Transportation outlays were buoyed by more people buying cars, while utilities were affected by lower energy prices.

On non-consumption expenditures, which reached 805,000 won, the total rose 3 percent on-year from a gain of 2.8 percent in 2013. Outlays in this field include taxes, pensions and insurance.

The report showed that households' monthly disposable income -- total income minus non-consumption spending -- stood at just under 3.50 million won, up 3.5 percent from a year earlier. In 2013, disposable income grew 1.9 percent.

The average monthly surplus for a household stood at 947,000 won, a solid gain of 5.2 percent on-year.

The report, on the other hand, showed the numbers for households' "average consumption propensity" -- the ratio of total consumption spending to disposable income -- dropped to 72.9 percent, a 0.4 percentage difference from the previous year. This marks the fourth year in a row that it contracted compared to the year before. Last year's numbers were the lowest reached since corresponding figures were tallied from 2003 onwards.

The low numbers are a sign that people are withholding spending, despite a rise in earnings, with the statistical office saying that the trend is related to the rapid aging of the South Korean society that is causing manly elderly citizens to cut back on consumption.

For the fourth quarter, average household income stood at 4.26 million won, up 2.4 percent from the year before, with expenditures edging up 0.9 percent to 2.5 million won. Non-consumption spending reached 761,000 won with disposable income standing at a little over 3.5 million won, for a gain of 2.9 percent on-year.

The monthly household surplus reached 997,000 won, a 8.3 percent spike from the year before.

On the latest report, the finance ministry said while a more extensive survey due out in May will shed greater light on household earnings, last year's figures showed a steady rise in income, particularly among the lower 20 percent of the population. May figures will incorporate single person households and those in farming and fishing communities.

"Income gains among the bottom 20 percent bolstered by state welfare spending and pensions rose 5.6 percent on-year, which is higher than the overall average," the ministry said in a press release.

It said this gain reduced the equivalent disposable income (EDI) to 4.45, the lowest since 2004.

EDI is the total income of a household, after tax and other deductions, available for spending that also takes into account the number of household members. This is used to measure wealth disparity between different income groups with lower numbers meaning less disparity. (Yonhap)

Friday, 13 February 2015 13:45

Army closely monitoring UDD leaders

BANGKOK, Feb 13 - Thailand's Deputy Defence Minister/Army Chief Gen Udomdej Sitabutr has ordered First Army Region Commander Lt Gen Kampanart Ruddit to closely monitor activities of the United Front For Demoocracy against Dictatorship (UDD) after several of its leaders have frequently expressed political comments recently.

BANGKOK, Feb 11 - The Thai Embassy in Seoul, South Korea is speeding up assistance to five Thai nationals who were injured in a massive collision of about 100 vehicles on a bridge near Incheon International Airport yesterday.

SEOUL, Feb 12 - South Korea's central bank is forecast to keep the policy rate unchanged in February but is likely to take action in coming months as rate cut pressure grows on a mix of downbeat economic data and a wave of global monetary easing, analysts said Thursday.

All 17 analysts surveyed by Yonhap Infomax, the financial news arm of Yonhap News Agency, projected the Bank of Korea (BOK) to keep the base rate on hold at its policy meeting on Tuesday. If the forecast is on track, it will extend the BOK's wait-and-see stance to a fourth consecutive month.

The country's policy rate has been standing at a record-matching low of 2 percent since October after the BOK cut the rate by a quarter percentage point each in August and October to support the government's stimulus efforts.

"Governor Lee Ju-yeol said that the BOK needs to monitor the impact of the two rate cuts delivered in 2014. Distortions from the Lunar New Year also support a wait-and-see approach," HSBC economist Ronald Man said.

In a press conference following the monetary policy committee's Jan. 15 decision to freeze the rate, the top central banker distanced himself from market anticipation over a rate cut, saying that the base rate is "sufficient enough" and that using monetary policy is "inappropriate" at this point.

Some analysts cited the country's ever-growing household debt, breaking 1,000 trillion won (US$905 billion) last year, as a factor that blocks additional rate cuts.

"One concern is that household debt is now growing too fast as a result of the rate cuts last year. Cutting rates further can only come if there is significant and sudden deterioration in the activity indicators. So far, there is no sign of this," said Leong Wai Ho, an economist at Barclays.

Analysts, however, projected the central bank to take action in the first half as tepid growth and rate cuts by global central banks heighten pressure for an additional rate cut.

Five out of 15 analysts who submitted their forecast for end-March expected the BOK to cut the base rate next month. The case for a rate cut increased going forward, with 11 out of 16 analysts forecasting a rate cut by end-June.

HSBC's Man said the move may come as early as next month.

"As data are expected to continue to show suppressed economic activity and private sentiment, we expect the central bank to respond and lower its policy rate by 25 basis points at its March 12 meeting," he said, also noting how a handful of central banks have recently joined monetary easing.

Some still argued that the global move will not push the central bank to take action unless it clearly impacts the local financial market.

"Some say that the monetary authority will join the recent wave of global monetary easing. But unless it bolsters a stronger won, (the BOK) is unlikely to bow to the global easing stance," said Kim Jong-soo, an economist at Taurus Securities.

Kim instead forecast the central bank to start hiking the rate in the fourth quarter following the U.S. Federal Reserve's rate normalization and easing volatility in the global financial market. (Yonhap)

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 12 -- Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Thursday said further integration in ASEAN will lead to the world witnessing the emergence of a new economic power in Southeast Asia.

"I say new, because although our economies have been trade and commercial hubs for centuries, we are today creating an economic union unlike anything since the days of empire," he said.

In realising that, the Prime Minister said ASEAN's priority must be to ensure that integration leads to equitable wealth creation and distribution as well as deepen financial integration and inclusion.

"We must ensure that all sectors of our economies are fully engaged in the ASEAN Community," he said in his keynote address at the ASEAN CAP10 CEO Summit here Thursday.

Najib said an economically integrated ASEAN benefits all of its member states with freer movement of goods, services, skilled labour and capital.

He said ASEAN is projected to have 125 million households with an income of over US$7,500 (RM26,826) in the next 10 years, and would be the seventh largest economy in the world, with a combined gross domestic product expected to reach US$4 trillion (RM14.3 trillion) by 2020, if it were a single country.

The establishment of ASEAN as a single market and production base would also unlock the potential to level the playing field with the world's biggest economies, he stressed.

"Harmonising and standardising trade and customs, processes and procedures will reduce transaction costs, making ASEAN even more attractive as an investment location and enhance export competitiveness.

"Liberalising the financial services sector while ensuring responsible investment and sustainability will further increase investor confidence, stability and growth," he said.

Najib said Malaysia, as Chair of the Association this year, would continue to work closely with other member states to ensure that ASEAN delivers on key initiatives.

Malaysia will be recommending at the 26th ASEAN Summit in April that an enhanced ASEAN secretariat be deployed to ensure member states work together to craft and implement its post-2015 agenda.

"Malaysia will play a key role in building a stronger, more prosperous, more open Southeast Asia," Najib said. (BERNAMA)

SEOUL, Feb 11 - The student council of state-run Seoul National University (SNU) launched Wednesday a body to cope with sex offenses on campus following a recent series of sexual harassment cases involving professors.

Prof. Kang Seok-jin from the Mathematical Sciences Department at SNU, the most prestigious institution of higher learning in the country, is now undergoing a court trial on charges of sexually abusing nine female students.

Two more SNU professors from the dentistry graduate school and the business administration division are also under investigation by the university's human rights center on similar suspicions.

"The student community's efforts are needed to overhaul the fundamental structure where such cases are created," SNU's acting student council and the council for graduate students said in a press conference.

"We will propose measures to overhaul the current system in order for (sexual abuse) victims to be able to come forward more safely to disclose their issues and to create a forum in which students can make their voices heard."

Many student victims usually shy away from reporting sexual abuses by professors because they are afraid of the power and influence professors often wield, the students said, urging SNU authorities and the judiciary to come up with due punishment on Kang.

The new student body will closely audit the court proceeding on Kang while pushing to create a consultative body between students and school authorities on the sexual abuse field, according to the student council.

It will also get involved in collecting sexual damage cases among students and launch campus campaigns against sexual violence by professors, it also noted.

The SNU university faculty came under fire late last year for accepting the resignation of the mathematics professor amid mounting sexual abuse allegations.

The resignation, if recognized, would have sustained Kang's entitlement to severance pay and pension right and automatically ended the school's internal investigation on him.

In the face of rising criticism, the school withdrew the decision and the prosecution formally charged Kang in late December for sexually molesting nine students from 2008 to July 2014. (Yonhap)

BANGKOK, Feb 11 - Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will preside over a ceremony to launch an 18-day floating market at Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem, a canal near Government House in Bangkok on Thursday, according to government spokesperson Maj Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

BANGKOK, Feb 10 -- Thailand and seven other countries have agreed to form a task force to help control illicit drug precursor substances.

The Special Meeting on Precursor Control, which gathered concerned authorities from Thailand, Cambodia, China, India, South Korea, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, reached a resolution on the formation of the taskforce on Tuesday.

The taskforce will have concerned authorities from the eight countries exchange information and knowledge about operations to block precursor supplies.

The operations include setting up checkpoints, a capability enhancement programme for personnel and exchanging information on precursor chemicals.

Thailand will coordinate the task force.

Permpong Chaovalit, secretary-general of the Narcotics Control Board, said the United Nations specified 14 precursors and viewed that Asia remained the hub of the narcotic precursors, especially ephedrine in India, China and South Korea.

He said the UN also noted that the use of acetic anhydride in aspirin as a heroin precursor was growing and urged Asian countries to enact laws to control the narcotic precursors.

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