South Korea mulls sending own ships to Strait of Hormuz

Around 70 percent of its oil imports pass through the waterway. (AFP)
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Updated 19 January 2020

South Korea mulls sending own ships to Strait of Hormuz

  • Seoul wants to avoid feud with Tehran over international maritime alliance

SEOUL: South Korea is considering sending its own ships to the Strait of Hormuz to safeguard its vessels rather than joining an international maritime security alliance, a presidential aide has said.

Around 70 percent of its oil imports pass through the waterway, making it crucial for the country’s ships to be protected from piracy and other threats.

But, amid tension in the Middle East following the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani from a US airstrike and in a bid to avoid a feud with key oil producer Iran, the South might send its own naval unit to the strait.

“Internally, there has been considerable progress (about the Hormuz dispatch),” Noh Young-min, presidential chief of staff, told a local radio program following a National Security Council meeting. “We should make efforts to protect the lives and properties of our people and companies in the region, as well as safeguard freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.”

Talks with Iranian authorities were also underway to defuse diplomatic problems, he added.

“We’re going to explain the issues (to Iran) in advance,” Noh said, responding to a question about a possible rift between Seoul and Tehran should a ship be sent to the strait. “We hope bilateral relations will not be affected.”

The anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit is operating in the Gulf of Aden and is likely to extend its mission to the Strait of Hormuz once a decision is made.

South Korea has not indicated it will join the US-led “Operation Sentinel” coalition guarding the strait, despite insistence from President Donald Trump’s administration that it shoulder some of the costs.

In a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-hwa on Tuesday in Palo Alto near San Francisco, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for collective maritime security efforts.

“Overall, (Pompeo) emphasized the importance of collective efforts by the international community,” a top South Korean diplomat told reporters, asking not to be named.

The diplomat said Pompeo pointed to the repercussions for the global economy from instability in the Strait of Hormuz, including a hike in oil prices, and stressed the need for all countries to contribute to bringing stability to the region.

Operation Sentinel’s members include Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the UK and Albania, with leadership and headquarters coordination provided by US Naval Forces Central Command.


Japan to declare coronavirus emergency, launch $990 billion stimulus

Updated 06 April 2020

Japan to declare coronavirus emergency, launch $990 billion stimulus

  • More than 3,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan and 85 have died
  • Numbers keep rising with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases

TOKYO: Japan is to impose a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures as early as Tuesday to try to stop the coronavirus, the prime minister said, with the government preparing a $990 billion stimulus package to soften the economic blow.
More than 3,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan and 85 have died — not a huge outbreak compared with some hot spots. But the numbers keep rising with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases, including 83 new ones on Monday.
“Given the state of crisis on the medical front, the government was advised to prepare to declare the state of emergency,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.
An emergency, which Abe said would last about a month, will give governors authority to call on people to stay at home and businesses to close, but will not be as restrictive as lockdowns in some other countries.
In most cases, there will be no penalties for ignoring requests to stay at home, and enforcement will rely more on peer pressure and respect for authority.
Pressure had been mounting on the government to take the step although Abe had voiced concern about being too hasty, given the restrictions on movement and businesses it would entail.
Abe also said the government has decided to launch a stimulus package of about 108 trillion yen, including more than 6 trillion yen for cash payouts to households and small businesses and 26 trillion yen to allow deferred social security and tax payments.
It was not immediately clear how much of that package would be new government spending.
“The government wants to help businesses continue and protect jobs,” Abe said.
An emergency appears to have public support. In a poll published on Monday by JNN, run by broadcaster TBS, 80 percent of those surveyed said Abe should declare it while 12 percent said it was not necessary. His approval rating fell by 5.7 points from last month to 43.2 percent, the survey showed.
But Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Public Health at King’s College, London, said the emergency was too late given the explosive increase in cases in Tokyo.
“It should have been declared by April 1 at the latest,” he said.
Sounding an alarm over the high rate of cases that could not be traced, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike indicated last week that she would favor a state of emergency as a way to help her urge residents to abide by stronger social-distancing measures.
An expert on the government’s coronavirus panel said Japan could avoid an explosive rise by reducing person-to-person contact by 80 percent.
Under a law revised in March to cover the coronavirus, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency if the disease poses a “grave danger” to lives and if its rapid spread could have a big impact on the economy.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura called for calm saying there was no need for people in designated prefectures to flee to other regions, which could spread infections, NHK reported.
While Japan’s coronavirus epidemic is dwarfed by the 335,000 infections and more than 9,500 deaths in the United States alone, experts worry a sudden surge could overwhelm Japan’s medical system.
Abe must seek formal advice from a panel of experts before deciding to go ahead and declare the emergency.
Governors in Tokyo and elsewhere have asked citizens to stay home on weekends, avoid crowds and evening outings, and work from home. That has had some effect, but not as much as many experts said was needed.