Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, Gabriel Walker, and James West look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Canadian pastor sentenced by North Korea to life in prison with hard labor. Hyeon Soo Lim, a Canadian pastor, was sentenced to a life term of hard labor by the highest court in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. After a ninety-minute trial, Lim was convicted of crimes against the state that included running a human rights campaign against North Korea in cooperation with the United States and South Korea, as well as assisting defectors who wished to leave North Korea. A video was circulated of Lim admitting his guilt in what is suspected to be a staged confession. The Canadian government is doing what it can to negotiate his release and repatriation, and has characterized his sentence as “unduly harsh” particularly given Lim’s “age and fragile health.”
2. Pakistan surprised by inclusion in “Islamic military alliance.” In a rare press conference on Tuesday, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman announced the formation of an “Islamic military alliance,” with a permanent base in Riyadh that will coordinate the efforts of thirty-four Muslim countries to combat global terrorism, including providing assistance with military training and equipment and countering violent extremism messaging. Pakistan—along with several other countries, including Indonesia and Malaysia—was caught off guard by the announcement of a military alliance, with reports indicating that Saudi Arabia had reached out to states simply to establish a coordination center and that senior officials and lawmakers learned about it from news reports. On Thursday, the Foreign Office confirmed Pakistan’s support for the alliance, but cautioned that Pakistan “is awaiting further details to decide the extent of its participation in different activities in the alliance” and it is unlikely Pakistan will send combat troops abroad. Earlier this year, Pakistan declined a Saudi request for troops, naval, and aircraft support for its intervention in Yemen against Houthi rebels.
3. Xinjiang mine attack suspect spoke of jihad. Chinese state media released a video of one of the alleged perpetrators of a September knife attack at Sogan coal mine in northwestern Xinjiang. As many as fifty people are believed to have died in the attack, which sparked an eight-week manhunt for the attackers. In the video, the sole suspect to have surrendered, Turghun Emet, describes his motives in Uighur. “If we die when we do jihad, then we will go to heaven… At that time, they gave me a knife. There was a knife in everyone’s hands—if you cut someone, kill someone, then you will be a martyr and go to heaven.” Twenty-eight other terrorists died during the manhunt. Concerns about terrorism, and particularly the Islamic State group, have increased in China following the killing of a Chinese hostage held by the Islamic State in November and the release of a chant in Mandarin exhorting Chinese Muslims to “take up weapons to fight.” Chinese officials recently cited the Xinjiang mine attack and manhunt as evidence to compare their nation’s experiences with terrorism to other incidents such as the Paris attacks.
4. Japanese journalist found not guilty for defaming South Korean president. Tatsuya Kato, former Seoul bureau-chief of the Sankei Shimbun, was acquitted of a charge of defaming South Korean President Park Geun-hye. This decision came amidst the two governments’ efforts to improve relations, and led the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to appeal to its Ministry of Justice for leniency in the case. In October 2014, Kato was indicted for his online article on Park’s whereabouts on the day of the Sewol ferry disaster, in particular regarding the mysterious seven hours during which she was missing. The article introduced a scandalous rumor that she may have been with her former secretary, quoting a column published by the Chosun Ilbo, a major Korean newspaper. Kato was barred from leaving the country until April 2015, and this fueled Japanese public anger towards South Korea for its lack of freedom of press, worsening an already deteriorated bilateral relations due to complicated issues of history. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took this incident so seriously that he met with Kato the day after he returned to Japan in April. Although both Abe and South Korean MOFA viewed the court’s decision positively, the Japanese public, as represented both in conservative and liberal newspapers, still remains unhappy about the prosecution itself.
5. To cut smog in New Delhi, India restricts vehicle use. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of India passed a number of temporary restrictions on vehicle use in Delhi in order to address the capital’s dire air pollution problem. The move included a ban on some diesel vehicles and SUVs, old “transport vehicles,” and an increased tax on commercial vehicles. Additionally, all taxis operating in the city must switch from gasoline or diesel to compressed natural gas by March of 2016. Though international media frequently make Beijing out to be Asia’s most important battleground in the fight against air pollution, the World Health Organization reported in 2014 that Delhi’s mean annual concentration of PM2.5, the smallest and potentially most dangerous particles, was nearly three times that of Beijing. Beginning on January 1, Delhi will implement a Beijing-like, odd-even license-plate restriction system, and also has plans to close a coal-fired power plant and further upgrade vehicle emissions standards. But because vehicles in Delhi only produce about a quarter of PM2.5 pollution, and the majority comes from industry, road dust, and burning firewood, and other sources, the vehicle restrictions are just a first step to clearing the city’s smoggy skies.
Bonus: South Koreans are living through the experience of death. In response to high suicide rates, “fake funerals” are now being offered to South Koreans as a way to reflect on their lives and contemplate the reality of death. Providers of the service offer coffins for clients to lay in as they mediate on death. High amounts of professional stress and social pressure have led to increased suicide rates, giving South Korea the nickname the “suicide capital of the developed world.” The near-death experience encourages clients to imagine their deaths by writing letters to their friends and family before walking out to the graveyard and entering their coffins. By offering a near-death experience, the goal of the service is to bring clients a new appreciation and relationship with life.