Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Lincoln Davidson, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Tokyo elects first female governor. On Sunday, Yuriko Koike was elected as the first female governor of Tokyo with 2.9 million votes, nearly one million more than her closest competitor. Although she is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), she ran as an independent when the LDP endorsed rival candidate Hiroya Masuda instead. Koike has previously been mocked for lack of commitment to a given political party, earning her comparisons to a conveyer belt sushi restaurant or migratory bird. Of the mayoral candidates, her record was considered to be the most conservative. However, in this election she emphasized programs to benefit the prefecture including increasing government transparency, prioritizing residents’ needs, and emphasizing her green credentials. Koike has a diverse background, having previously served as Japan’s environment minister and defense minister, a role that highlighted her strong nationalist stances, particularly against North Korea and China. She also studied at Cairo University and served as a newscaster. While Koike may now be one of the highest-profile female politicians in Japan, she encountered sexism in the campaign. A former governor of Tokyo said, “We cannot leave Tokyo to a woman with too much make-up.” Tokyo has now been left to Koike, leaving her to face new challenges such as preparing Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics and working with the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, which is still dominated by the LDP.
2. North Korea lobs missiles into Japanese waters. North Korea reportedly fired two mid-range Rodong ballistic missiles on Wednesday. Although one missile exploded shortly after launching, the other fell approximately 155 miles off the coast of northern Japan. The incident marks the first time a North Korean missile has come in such close proximity to Japan since 1998, when a ballistic missile flew over the country. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called the reckless act “a grave threat to Japan’s security.” This is North Korea’s second missile test since the United States and South Korea agreed in July to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery to South Korea. Pyongyang had subsequently threatened to turn future South Korean sites for THAAD into a “sea of fire.” South Korean military officials reportedly view Pyongyang’s recent missile launches as an attempt to demonstrate its ability to target its neighbors. Japan’s annual defense white paper disclosed analysis on North Korea’s missile program and “expressed a sense of alarm” over Pyongyang’s increasingly developed weapons technology.
3. Uber sells China business to Didi Chuxing. After years of bleeding billions of dollars in subsidies competing for market share in China, ride-hailing service Uber announced this week it plans to sell its China operations to its leading rival in the country, Didi Chuxing. Under the deal struck between the two countries, Didi will take over Uber China, and Uber Global, Uber’s international parent company, will take a 20 percent stake in Didi, which is now valued at $35 billion. Didi will also make a $1 billion investment in Uber Global. The two firms have fought fiercely for several years, attempting to steal customers and drivers from each other by deeply subsidizing rides, and the deal signals that China’s intensely competitive ride-hailing market may begin to cool down. Adding to that impression, Chinese regulators last week made it illegal for the companies to provide services below cost, essentially ending the subsidy war. Commentators have pointed out that Uber’s retreat from China is a reminder of how difficult it is for foreign tech companies to succeed in the country. But in a way, it’s a victory for Uber: for $2 billion invested in China, Uber built an operation valued at $7 billion and gained and a permanent stake in Didi Chuxing, which now dominates the Chinese ride-hailing landscape.
4. Australia faces scrutiny for treatment of refugees. A joint investigation by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) shows that Australia is mistreating refugees trying to reach its shores. Both Australia’s Liberal-National coalition and Labor parties support tough asylum policies. This was demonstrated by the 2013 Operation Sovereign Borders, which placed the military in charge of all asylum operations. Most migrants make the treacherous journey to Australia on boats from Indonesia after paying huge sums of money to criminal gangs, and the Australian government claims that they have the duty to stop this process. Refugees are either turned away or taken to the island nations of Papua New Guinea or Nauru for detention. Amnesty and HRW researchers secretly traveled to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre (after being denied formal entry), where their interviews with eighty out of 1,200 forcibly transferred refugees revealed appalling conditions. Interviewees described their situation as “prison-like” with overcrowded tents, unbearable heat, and constant attacks, robbery, and sexual assault by the local population. The report also details concerns regarding the inhabitants’ mental health and access to adequate medical care and education. Amnesty and HRW claim that the Australian government is well aware of these issues and hopes that the current situation will deter future asylum-seekers.
5. Taiwanese president offers first formal apology to indigenous community. President Tsai Ing-wen, the first female leader of Taiwan, issued the first official apology to the indigenous people of Taiwan at a formal ceremony at the presidential office in Taipei on Monday. This apology is representative of President Tsai’s focus on social justice issues and rectifying historical injustices. At the ceremony, attended by many indigenous aboriginal community leaders, Tsai stated, “If we wish to declare ourselves as a country of one people, we need to face these historical facts. We have to face the truth." Indigenous people make up 2 percent of Taiwan’s population and have historically faced economic, social, and sometimes violent discrimination by ethnic Han Chinese. As the first Taiwanese president to have an indigenous background, Tsai faces high expectations from Taiwan’s indigenous community. At the ceremony, Tsai reassured attendees by announcing the formation of a commission to address social and economic issues affecting indigenous groups and her intention to enact a law guaranteeing basic rights for indigenous people. However, despite hope of better treatment from President Tsai’s administration, some suspect Tsai of focusing on indigenous peoples so as to better construct a Taiwanese cultural identity capable of supporting a formal independence push from the People’s Republic of China.
Bonus: Scientists confirm world’s deepest dragon burrow in the South China Sea. Chinese scientists have confirmed that the world’s deepest underwater sinkhole, known as the “Dragon Hole” or “eye” of the South China Sea, lies in the Paracel Islands. At just over 300 meters (987 feet) deep, researchers explored its murky bottom with a small underwater robot. They found more than twenty species of fish and other marine organisms near the surface of the formation, but because of low oxygen levels past 100 meters, finding life deeper into the hole is unlikely. According to local legend, it is also the source of the magical “golden cudgel” belonging to Sun Wukong, the famed monkey-hero from the Chinese classic Journey to the West. Might a dragon-king and his mighty army of shrimp soldiers and crab generals still reside in the hole’s inky depths?