China, the United States, Japan and more than a dozen other Asia-Pacific countries have signed a naval agreement aimed at ensuring miscommunication between ships at sea does not escalate into conflict. The Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, which was agreed Tuesday in the eastern port city of Qingdao, would reduce the potential for "situations to arise that could lead to conflict in busy sea lanes", the state-run China Daily said. China is embroiled in a series of territorial disputes with neighbours in the South and East China Seas which have frequently led to military jets being scrambled but not open conflict. Gary Li, an analyst with the consultancy IHS, described the agreement as "the ideal thing for China to grab hold of -- the rules of the road."
Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Wednesday the purchase of 58 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters costing Aus$12.4 billion ($11.6 billion) in a major defence upgrade to maintain Australia's regional edge. The new aircraft will bring Australia's total JSF force to 72, with the first due to arrive in 2018 and enter service in 2020. The deal with US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin includes an option to buy a further 18 planes and is additional to the purchase of 14 F-35s Australia already approved in 2009. Abbott said the planes would cost about $90 million each but noted that one of the largest defence purchases Australia has ever made was budgeted for.
By Jennifer Chaussee BERKELEY, California (Reuters) - California Republican gubernatorial hopeful Neel Kashkari called for free college tuition for students pursuing math and science degrees, part of an education reform plan released Tuesday that would also model public schools after charter schools. Kashkari's proposal would waive tuition for students pursuing a four-year degree in any science, technology, electronics, or math subject in exchange for a percentage of their future earnings after graduation. It came as Kashkari, trailing a distant third in recent polls behind incumbent Jerry Brown and Republican Tea Party favorite Tim Donnelly, is struggling to add momentum to his campaign before the June primary.
By Steve Gorman LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. congressman from a Los Angeles community is seeking to lure the factory that makes the bestselling Sriracha-brand hot pepper sauce to his district after residents in its current location complained about the smell. U.S. Representative Tony Cardenas, a Democrat whose district includes much of the San Fernando Valley, wants to convince David Tran, the owner of Huy Fong Foods company which makes the hot sauce, to relocate rather than continue to fight with the residents of the city of Irwindale, California. Cardenas said the company grossed $60 million in sales from its Sriracha brand alone last year, with little marketing, and hailed Tran, an ethnic Chinese immigrant from Vietnam who founded his company in Los Angeles in 1980, as "an American success story." Huy Fong Foods hires 70 full-time employees and 200 seasonal workers and produces over 20 million bottles of hot sauce yearly.
By Linda Sieg and Elaine Lies TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama has said Washington welcomes China's rise but that engagement with Beijing would not come at the expense of its Asian allies - as Chinese state media greeted his imminent arrival in the region with a broadside accusing the United States of wanting to "cage" the emerging superpower. Obama's remarks, aimed at reassuring Japan and other allies, set against a robust commentary from China's state news agency Xinhua that also called the United States "myopic", demonstrate the delicate balancing act Obama faces on a week-long Asia tour. The four-nation trip that starts in Tokyo later on Wednesday comes at a time of rising tension in the region, and as the United States urges Japan's unpredictable neighbor North Korea not to conduct another nuclear test.
By Linda Sieg and Krista Hughes TOKYO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman arrived in Japan earlier than expected on Wednesday, Japanese media said, for a last ditch push for a two-way deal seen as crucial to efforts to create one of the world's biggest trade pacts. Froman, who had been expected to arrive in Tokyo with U.S. President Barack Obama later in the day, was likely to meet Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari, the reports said. Talks have been snagged largely on Japan's insistence on protecting politically powerful farm sectors such as beef. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament the talks were tough but Japan was trying to keep some tariffs.
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel will depart Wednesday for Mexico City to hold talks with his counterparts from Canada and Mexico aimed at bolstering Washington's security ties to its neighbors. Hagel's three-day trip to Mexico and Guatemala will underline "America's commitment to this region," spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters. The visit follows a Pentagon announcement for a planned sale of 18 Apache helicopters to Mexico. Kirby said the helicopters would "improve the security of a strong, strategic partner in Mexico, both in terms of combating organized crime and drug trafficking."