from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of April 29, 2016

An Afghan athlete performs during a sporting event at a stadium in Kabul March 8, 2014. Despite decades of conflict in Afghani...l anyone who participates. Picture taken March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS SPORT)

April 29, 2016

An Afghan athlete performs during a sporting event at a stadium in Kabul March 8, 2014. Despite decades of conflict in Afghani...l anyone who participates. Picture taken March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS SPORT)
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Refugees and Displaced Persons

Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Gabriella Meltzer, Gabriel Walker, and Pei-Yu Wei look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Afghan female athletes forced to the sidelines. Despite annual donations to the tune of $1.5 million from the American government and other Western donors to women’s sports in Afghanistan, these programs have proven to be an abject failure in the promotion of women’s empowerment and equal participation. The efforts have been riddled by corruption; the cricket program “consist[s] of little more than a young woman with a business card and a desk” and the women’s soccer team has not played an international match in years. The most corruption has been in women’s cycling. The cycling program was originally hailed as a model for women’s sports in the Middle East defying prevailing gender norms. However, the National Olympic Committee terminated its coach and manager, Haji Abdul Sediq, once it was revealed that he had married and divorced three young athletes during his tenure. Another rampant problem is growing violence against women in a conservative, patriarchal culture where many women do not feel safe to publicly train and instead often leave the country to pursue their athletic ambitions. Shamila Kohestani, an Afghan soccer star who aspired to return to Kabul to coach, commented that Afghan officials’ support for women’s sports programs was motivated more by their popularity with donors than a belief in female athletes.

2. U.S. Justice Department asserts its oversight over espionage cases. In a private letter to federal prosecutors around the country, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote that all cases relating to U.S. national security would require “coordination and oversight in Washington.” Although that procedure had always been intended, the explicitness of Yates’ letter was likely due to a growing number of botched espionage cases against Chinese-Americans over the past two years. Among the most prominent were cases—all of which were later dismissed—against two pharmaceutical scientists accused of leaking proprietary information to a Chinese drug manufacturer, a hydrologist accused of stealing national dam data, and a physics professor accused of sharing U.S. superconductor technology with China. But at the same time, there have also been real cases of recent espionage against the United States by Chinese nationals, including Su Bin, who tried to steal information on the F-22 and F-35 jets, and Mo Hailong, who conspired to steal corn seeds engineered by DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto from an Iowa field. Just yesterday, a Chinese businesswoman was indicted for procuring underwater drone equipment for the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Hopefully, increased Washington oversight means fewer legal mistakes for cases that may be driven more by suspicion than actual facts.

3. China reasserts control over web. As China’s National People’s Congress passed a law restricting the activities of non-governmental organizations in China, the Chinese government also reasserted its control of the Internet. On April 19, Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping convened a meeting with top officials and heads of technology companies, where he said that “the fact that core technology is controlled by others is our greatest hidden danger.” Chinese leaders have long expressed fears that the United States uses technology companies to spy on the rest of the world. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s chief Internet regulator, put forward a proposal this week that the government take a financial stake in major domestic technology companies and be given a seat on the companies’ governing boards. Meanwhile, CAC Director Lu Wei met with his Russian counterpart at the first China-Russia Cyberspace Development and Security Forum in Moscow. At the meeting, Igor Shchegolev, Russia’s top Internet regulator, echoed the Chinese position on technology, reportedly saying that to protect national interests, Russia “can’t rely on transnational IT firms.” As the two governments come together to promote a norm of “cyber sovereignty” in opposition to the norm of openness online promoted by the United States, it remains to be seen if other countries will join them.

4. Papua New Guinea shuts down asylum detention center. Australia’s asylum processing system faced new challenges this week following a ruling by Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court to close the Manus Island detention center hosted for Australia. Papua New Guinea’s prime minister confirmed the decision, creating a dilemma for Australia over whether to relocate the approximately eight hundred and fifty asylum seekers held on the island. Australia operates a much-criticized policy of “offshore processing” for refugees in which prospective asylum seekers are sent to small Pacific islands. The government argues that this deters migrants from embarking on perilous ocean journeys to Australia.  The Australian and Papua New Guinean governments are currently debating who has responsibility in the case. One option would be for Australia to relocate asylum seekers to other detention sites at Christmas Island or Nauru. Troubles also exist on the latter island, however, which hosts over four hundred and fifty asylum seekers in an open camp. A twenty-three year-old Iranian man detained on Nauru died today after setting himself on fire in protest of camp conditions. These two incidents may force Australia to rethink its immigration policies.

5. Party organizers receive jail time in Taiwan.  The organizer of a “Color Play Party” that caused a fire at a Taiwanese water park last June was sentenced to four years and ten months in prison. The party, which took place at Formosa Water Park in New Taipei City, featured colored powders  sprayed into an audience of roughly one thousand guests. A subsequent explosion killed fifteen and injured more than four hundred party goers. Some victims sustained burns to over 80 percent of their bodies. Lu Chung-Chi, owner of Color Play Asia, which organized the party, was found guilty on April 26 of negligence causing death. The families of the victims and many members of the public thought that the sentence was too light, but prosecutors said that under Taiwanese law the maximum prison sentence for workplace negligence is five years and so four years and ten months is comparatively harsh. Relatives of the deceased were also angry that Lu was the only person indicted over the fire and eight other park executives were not charged due to lack of evidence. Some family members protested outside the courthouse on Tuesday. Taiwan’s high prosecutor’s office has ordered the case to be reopened and for the district prosecutors to reexamine the culpability of other suspects in the tragedy.

Bonus: Movie studios “whitewash” Asian characters. Upcoming movie adaptations of books have drawn ire in recent weeks following announcements that characters who are Asian in the books will be played by white actresses. Major Motoko Kusanagi, the main character of the Japanese manga, TV show, and animated movie series Ghost in the Shell, will be played by Scarlett Johansson in the show’s live-action adaptation. Marvel Studios’ movie adaptation of the Doctor Strange comics will likewise feature a character who is a Tibetan man in the original being played by Tilda Swinton, a white woman. Critics have accused the studios of continuing the Hollywood tradition of reducing the role of Asian characters in film. Producers of both films argue the casting decision is a business imperative. Ghost in the Shell screenwriter Max Landis defended Johansson’s casting with the argument that “there are no A-list female Asian celebrities right now on an international level.” And Doctor Strange writer Robert Cargill suggested that casting a Tibetan would be too sensitive for the Chinese market.