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Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Larry Hong, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Anies elected Jakarta’s next governor. Anies Baswedan, Indonesia’s former education minister, beat out sitting governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as Ahok) in a closely contested election. While official results have not yet been released, Anies clearly leads in polls. This year’s gubernatorial campaign was plagued by ethnic and racial tensions. Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent, was accused of blasphemy for remarks made in September regarding a Koranic verse. And although he garnered the largest share of votes in the first round of voting in February, he did not win the necessary simple majority. In the subsequent runoff race, religion may have played a decisive role in his defeat; Anies, who is Muslim, placed second in February and may have gained votes from supporters of third-place candidate Agus Yudhoyono, who is also Muslim. Ahok’s trial is ongoing, but he is unlikely to face jail time even if found guilty. Observers worry that the election results may empower conservative Islamic groups in both in the city itself and across the nation. The divisive role of religion and ethnicity in the Jakarta campaign could also foreshadow similar frictions in the 2019 presidential election. For now, the new mayor will face not only the challenge of uniting the city, but also of addressing a range of problems including those involving public education and urban infrastructure.
2. India’s women-to-men ratio expected to decline rapidly. According to a report released this week by the Indian government, the ratio of women to men among those ages fifteen to thirty-four is expected to drop precipitously over the course of the coming decades. According to data from both the Indian government census and the World Bank, the ratio will drop from 939 girls per 1,000 boys to only 898 girls per 1,000 boys by 2031. This stark gender imbalance is a result of the decades-long practice of female infanticide, evidence of which began to appear when ultrasounds were first introduced to the country in the 1980s. Parents’ strong preference for male children is based on perceptions that only males will be able to financially care for their parents in old age, that family lineage should be passed through sons, and that the practice of dowries will “financially cripple” families. Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India, remarked that many Indian families are still choosing to have boys despite declining fertility rates, even as incomes and education levels rise. Although the practice of prenatal sex determination was officially banned in 1994, its enforcement has been lax at best.
3. Bluster billows over USS Carl Vinson bluff. Sparking ridicule and bewilderment throughout Asia, the revelation that the Pentagon did not send the USS Carl Vinson carrier directly toward North Korea, as U.S. officials had stated, also sparked questions about the coherence of the U.S. strategy toward North Korea. The reveal on Wednesday—that the carrier strike group was actually thousands of miles away and had been heading away from South Korea—caused many in South Korea to question the Trump administration’s leadership and strategy in Asia. It also caused turmoil in South Korea during an already turbulent election period. After South Korea’s Defense Ministry declined to comment substantively on the issue, critics accused the ministry of aggravating anxieties in an election where North Korea’s nuclear program and Seoul’s close military relationship with Washington have been central issues. In China, the USS Carl Vinson episode prompted ridicule on social and news media, much of it directed at the perceived gullibility of foreign media and the Trump administration’s attempts to stymie Pyongyang. The incident provoked much less coverage in Japan, with many top officials declining to comment on the level of communication with Washington regarding policy toward North Korea. The USS Carl Vinson is now on its way to the Korean peninsula and is expected to arrive in the region next week.
4. Support slips for Duterte’s drug war. The latest public opinion poll on Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war shows declining—though still high—support. 78 percent of respondents reported they were satisfied with the government’s crackdown on illegal drugs, down from 85 percent in a similar poll taken in December 2016. The amount of dissatisfied respondents rose from 8 to 12 percent. The poll also shows that 73 percent of Filipinos were worried that they or someone they know would be a victim of extrajudicial killing. Since assuming office on June 30, 2016, President Duterte has put in place a controversial drug policy that involves calling upon Filipinos to kill drug addicts and suspected criminals. Since the implementation of the policy, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have criticized the drug war on a number of grounds, including extrajudicial killings, disproportionate targeting of the poor, and fabrication of police evidence. Despite these alarming features, however, support for the drug war has remained high, including among young, liberal Filipinos. In response to the latest decline in public satisfaction, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said that “there seems to be consistency in the way the public appreciates the [anti-drug] efforts.”
5. Baidu to share self-driving car technology. Chinese search giant Baidu has been steadily expanding its AI research and investment in self-driving vehicles in recent years. This week, Baidu announced it will go one step further by releasing a platform for self-driving cars to the public this July. The platform, named Apollo, will provide access to systems for mapping, operations, and vehicle control. Initially the technology will only be available for use in limited areas, but ultimately the hope is to make it accessible for all road types by the end of the decade. Industry analysts see the move as a way for Baidu to accelerate the production of self-driving cars, assume an important role in the supply chain for such vehicles, and collect and analyze data on how the cars operate. Other major Chinese internet companies including Alibaba and Tencent have also been investing in the autonomous vehicle sector, along with firms in the United States and Europe. But open-source technology could help push Baidu closer to beating out competitors. Already car manufacturers in China, Germany, and the United States are reportedly interested in using the Apollo platform. Baidu’s decision to grant open access to its information is not without precedent. Tesla granted access to its patents to accelerate the development of the electric car market, and Google made its Android platform open source as well.
Bonus: South Korea swaps coins for cards. On Thursday, South Korea took an important step on the road to a coinless—and possibly even cashless—future. Beginning this week, customers at some popular stores, such as CU, 7-Eleven, and Lotte Department Stores, can elect to deposit their small change onto cards rather than receiving it in coins. If the limited trial is successful, change could be deposited directly into bank accounts as early as next year. The shift would not only streamline shoppers’ transactions, but also save the government nearly $50 million a year that it would normally spend on minting coins. Even before the trial began, South Korea had the foundation for transitioning into a cashless society: according to the Bank of Korea, only 20 percent of payments are made with cash, over 60 percent of South Koreans do not use coins, and the rate of credit card ownership is relatively high at around 1.9 per citizen. Other Asian governments, such as those in Singapore and India, are also pushing to reduce the size of their cash economies to cut costs or combat tax evasion and corruption.