North Korea Fires Rockets as Pope Visits South Korea
North Korea fired five short-range rockets into the East Sea on Thursday (Yonhap) as Pope Francis landed in South Korea for a five-day trip that kicks off his first Asian tour as pontiff. In an English speech in Seoul, the Pope called for renewed efforts to forge peace on the war-divided Korean Peninsula, urging regional reconciliation (NYT). Notably, Francis also sent a message of goodwill to Chinese President Xi Jinping in a rare gesture that observers say could further a low-key push for better ties with China (SCMP), which has had fraught relations with the Vatican. During his visit, the pope will also convene the region's bishops and lead a meeting of young Asian Catholics.
"Asia offers potential for the Catholic Church to counterbalance falling membership in Europe and the U.S., yet it is a source of problems for Rome, including tensions with Hindu and Muslim communities, stiff competition from Protestant evangelical groups, and declining rates of church attendance," writes Deborah Ball for the Wall Street Journal.
"The Catholic Church in Korea enjoys a high level of respect from non-Catholics, maintains good relations with other religious communities, and has a history of positive social engagement for the common good. Pope Francis's visit will recognize these accomplishments, a move that will not only please Koreans, but hold up their church as a model of evangelization," writes Franklin Rausch for CNN.
"Spanish rule left the Philippines strongly Catholic, but Korea is less simple. In the 18th century curious intellectuals encountered Catholicism in Beijing and smuggled it home," writes the Economist.
Okinawans Demonstrate Against U.S. Military Base
Hundreds of demonstrators rallied on Japan's southern Okinawa island on Thursday, protesting the long-delayed relocation of a controversial U.S. military base (AFP). Workers broke ground on the construction plans to build new runways at Camp Schwab.
This CFR Backgrounder discusses the history, evolution, and future of the U.S.-Japan security alliance.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Anti-Government Rally Begins in Pakistan
Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan kicked off an anti-government march (Dawn) from Lahore to Islamabad with supporters on Thursday to protest the alleged rigging of polls in the 2013 general elections. The stand-off is seen as the biggest challenge yet to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government.
INDIA: Indian officials said that Pakistani troops fired at Indian posts along the line of control in Kashmir, marking the sixth cease-fire violation in the past five days (TOI).
Yazidi Rescue Mission Unlikely
The Pentagon announced Thursday that a U.S. mission to evacuate Iraqi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq by ISIS militants is far less likely after a team of advisers found the humanitarian situation not as grave as expected (Reuters). Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia donated $100 million to the United Nations to combat terrorism (WashPost).
ISRAEL: Israel and Palestinian factions began a fresh five-day cease-fire in Gaza as the previous three-day truce expired. Meanwhile, The White House has tightened control on arms transfers to Israel, the Wall Street Journal reported (WSJ).
Guinea Declares National Health Emergency
Following in the steps of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, Guinea declared a national health emergency as it battles its Ebola outbreak (BBC). The move calls for tighter border controls, immediate quarantining, and a ban on the transportation of bodies between towns. The virus has killed more than a thousand people in West Africa.
A convoy of more than two hundred Russian aid trucks headed in the direction of Rostov early Thursday (FT), raising speculation that the group would attempt to enter Ukraine through separatist territory instead of an official Ukrainian border. Meanwhile, Donetsk, the rebel stronghold, faced heavy shelling Thursday (euronews).
EUROPE: Official figures showed Thursday that the Eurozone economy stalled last quarter after a year of weak growth (WSJ), with German output falling. France and Germany fared worse than expected.
Brazil Mourns Death of Presidential Candidate
Brazil was shocked by the unexpected death of presidential candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash Thursday (Economist). Campos, the former governor of the northeast Pernambuco State and President Dilma Rousseff's rival, was a former member of her predecessor's left-wing Workers' Party coalition government.
CANADA: Canada dispatched two icebreakers to map the Arctic seabed in a bid to extend the country's maritime territory (LATimes). The move comes after a December claim to undersea territory that Russia and Denmark will likely challenge.
This CFR Infoguide provides an interactive guide to the resources, economic opportunities, and environmental risk involved in the pursuit of the Arctic.