Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Lincoln Davidson, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Indonesia sinks illegal fishing boats. In a move intended to assert sovereignty over resource-rich waters surrounding the Natuna Islands off the Borneo coast, Indonesia sank sixty boats impounded for illegal fishing. While Indonesia has no official territorial disputes with China, the exponential increase in the Chinese fishing fleet (instigated by increasing domestic appetite and state subsidies) and the decreasing fish supply in Chinese coastal waters have resulted in heightened confrontations between Chinese fishing vessels and Indonesian coast guard vessels. Chinese activities in the Natuna Islands area has raised fears that Beijing is attempting to expand its influence through its fishing fleet rather than official naval vessels in the oil- and gas-rich area as a more cost-effective approach. Beijing has in the past described the area around the Natunas as a historical fishing ground, even though it lies almost 1,250 miles from the Chinese coastline and within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone. Not including the sixty ships scuttled this Wednesday, Indonesia has previously sunk more than 170 fishing vessels impounded for illegal fishing. Jakarta has emerged to take the hawkish lead on maritime security within the ASEAN regional community and has recently agreed to joint patrols with Malaysia and the Philippines.
2. China sees major uptick in cardiovascular disease. A study published this week from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that China is currently facing an epidemic of cardiovascular disease that is likely to worsen over the course of the next two decades due to increased incidence of high blood pressure and obesity. Data was collected from 26,000 people throughout nine provinces from 1991 through 2011, and the researchers attributed observed trends to changing lifestyles accompanying China’s rapid economic development. The authors note that in 1979, around the time the Chinese government began to open its economy, the prevalence of high blood pressure was 7.7 percent; by 2010, it had risen to 33.5 percent, a rate comparable to that of American adults. In fact, 44 percent of the 6.8 million deaths among Chinese above the age of 35 were related to heart disease. Contributing societal changes associated with China’s urbanization and industrialization include a major shift to “Western” diets—with greater consumption of red meat, sugary drinks, and salty foods—as well as decreased physical activity and high rates of smoking.
3. Japan plans new long-range missiles. After months of tension between Beijing and other Asia-Pacific states over disputed territorial claims, Japan has announced its intention to develop a new tactical ballistic missile. The new surface-to-ship missile will be the longest-range missile ever built by Japan, and is allegedly aimed at countering Chinese military strategy regarding the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Persistent tensions between Beijing and Tokyo most recently made news when Tokyo lodged a diplomatic protest with Beijing over the exponential increase in Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing ships around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, in addition to another protest lodged last week. The new missile system, properly positioned in places such as the Okinawan island of Miyako, would work to discourage Chinese naval aggression due to its long-range (300 km) capability. Japan’s move to develop these new missiles is not unanticipated given the China-centric 2013 revisions to the National Defense Program Guidelines, which called for a bolstering of Japanese island defenses and a strengthening of domestic military equipment development process. An August 14th report stated that the new missile system has an expected deployment date of 2023. This announcement was made amidst reports that China, Japan, and South Korea are considering a meeting of their respective foreign ministers despite tensions between the countries. The meeting is projected to lay the foundation for a three-way summit that will discuss the resolution of regional issues, such as the threat posed by North Korea’s plutonium processing.
4. North Korea resumes plutonium production. On Wednesday, in its first-ever response to a foreign media inquiry, North Korea’s Atomic Energy Institute confirmed that the country had resumed plutonium production for nuclear arms. The plutonium is gathered from spent fuel from a reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear facility, which Pyongyang shuttered in 2007 and restarted sometime before last year. The Institute also asserted that North Korea will not discontinue nuclear tests—the fourth of which took place in January—as long as perceived threats from the United States remain. A U.S. Department of State spokesman called the report “a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions which prohibit such activities,” and suggested that North Korea’s escalatory actions would only further steel international resolve to counter them. But given that the United Nations has already enacted its strongest sanctions yet against North Korea, it is unclear if any amount of pressure from international players, besides China, will have any hope of changing North Korea’s tack.
5. Beijing police permitted to use weapons to defend doctors. The Beijing municipal government announced this week that police there are now permitted to use weapons to defend medical professionals from attacks by patients. The new measure is part of a year-long campaign aimed at reducing hospital violence, a widespread occurrence in the country. Many patients, unsatisfied with their treatment, growing medical costs, overcrowding, or corruption in hospitals, have responded by attacking doctors; some attacks have even been fatal. According to one study, nearly 60 percent of Chinese medical staff have been verbally abused and 13 percent have suffered physical assault by patients. In 2014, Beijing hospitals made plans to recruit 1,500 “guardian angel” volunteers to mediate tense doctor-patient relations in order to prevent violence against staff. Sadly, it seems divine intervention was not enough to keep doctors safe.
Bonus: Kurds struggle for acceptance in Japan. Refugee status has never been given to a Kurd living in Japan, but that has not deterred those seeking asylum. Approximately 1,200 Kurds live in two of Tokyo’s northern suburbs. While they are often not authorized for employment and on temporary six-month permits, many Kurds work in the construction industry, which is increasingly reliant on foreign labor. A number of Kurds have also assisted with earthquake-relief projects. However, gaining acceptance in Japan is challenging since the country is known for its reluctance to accept immigrants. In 2015 alone, over 7,500 people sought refugee status in Japan but just twenty-seven received it. Currently, non-Japanese make up a mere 2 percent of the country’s population, although demographic pressures may force the adoption of a more accommodating immigration stance. The country does have a burgeoning Muslim population, though, which is estimated to have grown from just over 5,000 in the mid-1980s to as large as 70,000 to 80,000 in recent years. Other tensions have trailed the Kurds as well, including clashes with Turks living in Japan during the 2015 Turkish elections.