Asia Welcomes 2007 With Parties, Pledges of International Cooperation

Asian government leaders welcomed 2007 with new pledges for international cooperation and policy speeches, hours after millions of people around the region celebrated the start of the new year. But as VOA's Kate Pound Dawson reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong, in some parts of the region, celebrations were muted following local tragedies.

Hours after millions of people in Asia cheered the start of 2007, leaders in the region set out their policies for the next 12 months.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe greeted the new year with a pledge to improve ties with China and South Korea. Relations with those countries have been strained in the past few years because of their perception that Japan has whitewashed the history of its military expansionism in the first half of the last century.

In China, President Hu Jintao pledged to pursue social harmony at home, and to work with other countries to address common issues, such as pollution and economic growth.

Mr. Hu says that the trend toward a multi-polar world is growing and as the global economy expands, countries are becoming more interdependent. He says that new opportunities are emerging for maintaining world peace and promoting development.

China's president also stressed that he intends to pursue peaceful reunification with Taiwan.

However, in Taipei, Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian said in his New Year speech that the island's sovereignty was a matter for its residents. He declared that the island "definitely does not belong" to China.

Taiwan has been governed separately since Nationalist forces fled there in 1949, but Beijing considers the island its territory.

Elsewhere in Asia, the dawn of 2007 was subdued for hundreds of Indonesian families who lost relatives in a ferry sinking on Saturday. More than 400 people are believed to have died in the sinking. In Malaysia, many New Year's celebrations were canceled because of weeks of flooding that have left thousands of people homeless.

In the Philippines, more than 600 people were injured in New Year's accidents. Most were injured by fireworks or gunfire to mark the start of the year.

Celebrations were subdued in Thailand, after a series of bombings New Year's Eve in Bangkok left three dead and dozens injured. Police and army patrols were increased in many parts of the country to prevent new attacks.

And in Hong Kong, smokers faced a new law that bars lighting up in most public places. Restaurant and bar owners have said they are concerned about how the change will affect their sales.