Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. North Korean missile test facilitates China-Japan-South Korea talks. Earlier this week, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida hosted a two-day meeting with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts. The first since March 2015, the talks were slated to focus on increasing regional cooperation; however, North Korea’s Wednesday test of a submarine-launched missile dominated news coverage of the meeting and elicited wholesale criticism from all three foreign ministers. The talks come at a time of increasing tensions between the three states. China and Japan continue to be at odds over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, with Japan lodging numerous official protests in response to a surge in Chinese vessels in the contested waters. Warming relations between China and South Korea were disrupted by the THAAD missile defense shield which was lambasted by China as a U.S.-led move to counter Chinese power. Japan and South Korea have had a historically acrimonious relationship and continue to squabble over sovereignty of the Dokdo/Takeshima islets. However, the North Korean threat may continue to facilitate more unity in China-Japan-South Korea relations as the unilateral criticism of North Korean missile tests continues.
2. UN advisor warns against China’s crackdown on dissent. Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights for the United Nations, has expressed strong criticism of Beijing’s repression of personal liberties. Alston experienced harsh restrictions during his mission to China, including government approval for all meetings with private individuals. He was also informed that all academics contacted by the UN were “advised that they should be on vacation.” The mission’s primary purpose was to evaluate China’s progress in fulfilling promises made in 2001 when it ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Alston’s end-of-mission statement lauds China’s achievements in extreme poverty alleviation in recent years, but he argues that the Xi government’s domination of all legal apparatuses has left no avenue for the public to express any grievances. Xi Jinping has encouraged the Communist Party to envelop all elements of Chinese society, emphasizing party ideology and economic development over freedom of expression and public accountability—demonstrated by its widespread crackdown on journalists, academics, and foreign nongovernmental organizations.
3. Kofi Annan selected to head Myanmar commission on Rohingya. For generations, Rohingya Muslims have lived in the area comprised by Myanmar’s Rakhine state but continue to suffer human rights violations due to their persistent perceived status as outsiders. While about one-third of the population of Rakhine are Rohingya Muslims, they are denied citizenship in Myanmar and endure discrimination from the Buddhist majority. Since 2012, when violent clashes erupted in Rakhine between Buddhists and Muslims, thousands of Rohingya have fled violent persecution. Many Rohingya, while seeking refuge in other Southeast Asian countries, have died or fallen victim to human trafficking. Around 125,000 Rohingya remain displaced and live in squalid refugee camps. A newly sanctioned advisory panel, organized by the Myanmar government and to be led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will attempt to find “lasting solutions” to the continuing acrimony in Rakhine. The inclusion of foreigners on the advisory panel, consisting of three international and six national experts, appears to recognize international criticism of the way the previous military government and Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration have both handled the issue. The commission is scheduled to convene its first meeting on September 5th in Yangon, Myanmar, and submit its final report and recommendations in the second half of 2017.
4. Draft commercial surrogacy law approved in India. The federal cabinet in India approved a draft law that bans commercial surrogacy. Instead, it will be replaced by a system in which surrogacy can only be done by a close relative of a couple seeking a child on a voluntary and unpaid basis. To hire a surrogate, a couple would also need to have medical evidence of infertility and have been married for five or more years. Proposed rules in the past had limited who could hire a surrogate by restricting foreigners, singles, and gay couples, a stance reiterated in the new bill. Women will now also only be allowed to act as a surrogate one time. India hosts more than two thousand commercial surrogacy clinics and some argue that regulating the market would be better than banning it outright, as the latter could lead to a surrogacy black market. Although India legalized commercial surrogacy in 2002, recent scandals surrounding the abandonment of surrogate-born children and concern about women’s exploitation has led many nations, including Nepal and Thailand, to ban the practice. As a result, the surrogacy market is now shifting to Cambodia. India’s ban, which still needs to be passed by parliament and will not be implemented for another ten months, is likely to accelerate this shift.
5. Burmese quake damages at least 185 historic temples. On Wednesday afternoon, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake shook central Myanmar, killing three people and damaging at least 185 historic Buddhist pagodas. Luckily, initial reports suggest that the collapsed material is mostly modern additions to the pagodas, and not the original structures themselves. The famed brick towers, which date back as far as the eleventh century, make up many of the 2,500 Buddhist monuments in Bagan, Myanmar’s ancient capital. All together they comprise one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites. Bagan was also Aung San Suu Kyi’s first destination outside of Yangon—for a personal pilgrimage—after being released from house arrest in 2010. Although some locals expressed concern that the damage would deter tourists and endanger the livelihoods of villagers, it seems unlikely that the damage is extensive enough to do so. Myanmar’s tourism sector is booming, growing from around 1 million international visitors in 2012 to up to 6 million by the end of this year.
Bonus: China’s economy wins big in Rio. Although China’s overall performance at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio was unexpectedly lackluster, the Chinese economy definitely took home the gold. The world’s largest manufacturer—over ten thousand miles away from Brazil—produced hundreds of thousands of Chinese-made items for the event: brand-new railway cars, official uniforms, stuffed mascots, volleyball equipment, and air conditioning for the main Olympic stadium, among many other things. Chinese mosquito nets in particular, used as a preventive measure against the Zika virus, were also popular among both Chinese and foreign athletes. Now, at least one Chinese e-commerce site is advertising “Olympic” mosquito nets featuring an image of a happy Chinese gymnast sitting inside one. By 2025, Chinese leaders hope the “Made in China” moniker will signify innovation, efficiency, and quality—but even without that golden reputation, the world still seems very eager to buy Chinese products.