The World This Week

FOREIGN ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations meet in the Philippines capital, Manila, tomorrow and Wednesday to discuss the Spratly Islands. The row over who owns the islands in the South China Sea intensified when China recently pressed its claim to them and signed a contract with a US oil company to prospect in the area.

The dispute focuses a general fear among Asean nations that, with the withdrawal of the US from its bases in the Philippines, China is emerging as the region's biggest military power. The Philippines Foreign Minister, Raul Manglapus, couched his concern in terms of 'fear of the unknown' and added that 'China had slept for a long time under a soporific ideology but now it is waking up'. Russia and China will attend the meeting for the first time.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim part or all of the islands. If discussions over the Spratlys are fruitful, the topic will be raised at Asean's talks with the group's 'dialogue partners' on Saturday and Sunday. These include the US, Japan, the EC, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

The Group of 24 developing countries meet in the Albanian capital, Tirana, from Wednesday until Friday to discuss aid to Albania, the poorest country in Europe. The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, will represent the EC. Heads of government of Portuguese and Spanish-speaking countries meet in Madrid from Wednesday until Saturday, including the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, on his first official visit to Spain.

The Baltic state of Latvia follows the example of Estonia and abandons the rouble today, replacing it with the 'Latvian rouble'. It will introduce its own currency, the Lat, later in the year.

The Malawian government is expected to convene an important meeting today or some time this week. President Hastings Banda's ruling Malawi Congress Party is expected to introduce legislation to try to show Western aid donors that his much-criticised government is making human rights progress. An indication of his good intentions would be an act of leniency towards the dissident trade union leader Chakufwa Chihana, who is back in prison this week facing probable charges of sedition.

Another African exile, King Moshoeshoe of Lesotho, is expected to return home today. He has tried to return twice before but was stopped each time by the country's military rulers. He is reported to have reached an agreement with the government after mediation involving envoys from the Commonwealth Secretary General, Emeka Anyaoku.

The fifth international Aids conference opens today in Amsterdam. It was to have been held in Boston but this was scotched by US law, which prevents people with Aids from entering the country.

Olympias, a replica of an Athenian trireme used between the fourth and fifth centuries BC, commences sea trials today for three weeks from the Greek island of Poros.

The galley will be crewed by 170 rowers - who were not, a spokeswoman for the project insists, galley slaves at all, but free men who hired out their seafaring skills from ship to ship.

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