Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Lorand Laskai, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. The world reacts to China’s ivory ban. Following a resolution at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in South Africa in October, the Chinese State Council last Friday announced a ban on all ivory trade and processing activities by the close of 2017. China currently sustains roughly 70 percent of the world’s ivory market, where the coveted material can cost upwards of $1,000 per kilogram. The World Wildlife Fund has applauded China’s actions, calling the decision “a major boost to international efforts to tackle the elephant poaching crisis in Africa.” The president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Cristián Samper, stated that “elephants now have a fighting chance.” The move also may be one to win friends—some African wildlife experts expressed cautious optimism—as China hopes to expand its diplomatic influence on the African continent. The ban could also reinforce President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption, since ivory products often serve as bribes. Gao Yufang, a researcher at Yale University who has studied the country’s ivory market, commented that while “the ban represented progress, China would need to follow through with a holistic plan of action” to realize any real progress.
2. Google to offer assistance for Indian small businesses. As Google seeks to expand its user base in India, one major initiative will be to offer new digital tools and training to small businesses. A new program called Digital Unlocked will provide small businesses the opportunity to create a free website that will be easily accessible on mobile devices. With just one-third of India’s 51 million small and medium-sized businesses currently online, Digital Unlocked could support a large number of new users. In addition to website creation, the program will also offer in-person workshops, free online video lessons, and a mobile app focused on marketing skills development. If Digital Unlocked and other efforts succeed in getting smaller enterprises online, such businesses’ total contribution to GDP could increase by as much as 10 percent. Beyond Digital Unlocked, Google is also pursuing an array of other internet projects in India including educational programs and free Wi-Fi provision at 110 train stations across the country.
3. Islamist rebels stage a massive jailbreak in the southern Philippines. Early on Wednesday morning, a hundred heavily armed men emerged from a dark forest on Mindanao island in a daring “rescue” attack of a local jail. The operation led to the escape of 158 inmates, including many held for violent crimes and some high-profile prisoners being prosecuted for deadly bombings. Authorities suspect that the attackers included members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, militant rebel groups based in the southern Philippines, but both have denied involvement. Though there are no reports yet of the self-proclaimed Islamic State supporting Islamist separatist groups in the Philippines, some believe that the group may try to capitalize on growing frustrations of the Muslim community there to establish a foothold in the country. As of Friday, more than forty of the escapees had been captured and eight had been killed by police.
4. In Denmark, Choi Soon-sil’s daughter awaits extradition. Chung Yoo-ra, the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, the central figure in a massive scandal which has led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, was detained in the Danish city of Aalborg on charges of being in Denmark illegally. Chung is wanted in South Korea for questioning for allegedly using her mother’s political connections to gain admission to the prestigious Ewha University in Seoul and bankroll her international equestrienne career. The influence-peddling scandal roiling South Korea alleges Park and Choi granted favors to South Korean companies, such as Samsung, in exchange for the “donation” of nearly $70 million to nonprofit foundations that funded activities such as Chung’s riding career. Chung remains in Danish custody after a Danish court approved a four-week extension on her confinement; South Korean authorities are currently seeking her extradition.
5. China’s state media tells Trump to get off Twitter. Since November 8, President-Elect Donald J. Trump has taken to Twitter to batter Boeing and U.S. intelligence agencies, hint that he might reverse U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and break longstanding diplomatic protocols regarding Taiwan—all in 140 characters or less. And Trump’s press secretary has indicated that Trump plans to keep tweeting once he becomes president. But at least one frequent target isn’t taking Trump’s tweets sitting down. In a commentary piece, China’s state media took issue with Trump’s “Twitter diplomacy,” calling it an “addiction” and “unacceptable.” China’s concern seems to come not just from the sting of Trump’s barbs, but more importantly because Trump’s tweeting habit is at odds with Chinese-style diplomacy, which is subtle and carefully choreographed, and favors closed-door meetings and long deliberations over public displays and hasty decisions. “Everyone recognizes the common sense that foreign policy isn’t child’s play, and even less is it like doing business deals,” the commentary said.
Bonus: In Myanmar’s “land of rubies,” shiny visions of the future. Ruby dealers in the Mogok valley of Myanmar are hopeful that the recent lifting of U.S. sanctions are a harbinger of a boom in the gem industry. However, many advocacy groups question whether the expected influx of American buyers will actually benefit local workers rather than profiting the military-affiliated elite. Myanmar produces more than 80 percent of the world’s rubies, and since restrictions on private mining were lifted by the military junta in the 1990s, production has surged. But while the Mogok valley is now littered with mining scars, locals have seen little of the increase in profits. Military-affiliated companies such as the Myanmar Economic Corporation dominate the gems market and are instrumental in designating mine access to private companies. Many of these private companies are purportedly operated by Thais and Chinese who utilize shell companies to circumvent laws barring sole foreign ownership of Burmese mines, while first-rate gems are routinely smuggled across the porous eastern border as a source of quick cash for military-affiliated elites. And thus while many advocacy groups hope a surge in U.S. customers will lead to better conformity to laws regulating working conditions and environmental standards, many experts fear any boom will just end up lining the pockets of a select few.