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Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ariella Rotenberg, Gabriel Walker, and Pei-Yu Wei look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. South Korea tells China to back off on THAAD. This Wednesday, Jeong Yeon-guk, South Korea’s presidential spokesperson, said that the decision to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system was “a matter to be decided in accordance with security and national interests.” The statement was in response to Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Qiu Guohong’s unusually brash comments that the deployment of the system “could destroy bilateral relations in an instant.” THAAD is an anti-ballistic missile system designed to destroy short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles during their terminal phase. The United States and South Korea are considering the system’s deployment on the Korean peninsula in response North Korea’s continuous development of nuclear and missile capabilities. If deployed, THAAD would complement the existing Patriot system in Korea to provide a layered defense against incoming missiles. Given the limited capacity and the terminal-phase interception design, THAAD, by itself, would not affect China’s nuclear deterrent vis-à-vis the United States. Given the potential for dual use of THAAD to monitor missile launches from both North Korea and northeastern China, Beijing perceives potential introduction of the system as initial steps by Washington to build a broader, regionally integrated missile system aimed at China. China’s nuclear arsenal needed to deter multiple countries (the United States, India, Russia, and even North Korea in the future) is relatively small and is based on a flawed triad of bombers that will never reach the United States, vulnerable land-based missiles, and nascent submarine-based capabilities vulnerable against U.S. nuclear submarines. China still has no right to meddle in South Korea’s sovereign decision-making with regard to national defense, particularly when Beijing is enabling Pyongyang’s development of its nuclear and missile capabilities.
2. Xi Jinping visits state media. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Xi Jinping, also the president of China, visited the Beijing offices of official television station China Central Television (CCTV) last weekend, where he gave a speech on “news and public opinion work,” CCP code for propaganda. Xi also spoke with staff at CCTV America, the state TV station’s English-language branch in the United States. Party media responded in full force, launching a veritable avalanche of articles exhorting Chinese to “study the spirit of Xi’s important speech,” “grasp the proper political direction,” and “be innovative in increasing the quality of public opinion work.” The message is clear: the Party comes first, truth comes second.
3. Plane crash in Nepal kills twenty-three. A small plane crashed in Nepal on Wednesday, killing all twenty-three people on board including two foreign nationals and two children. Operators lost contact with the Tara Air flight eight minutes after it took off on what was supposed to be a nineteen-minute flight. After the army was alerted to sightings of the crash, rescue teams later found the wreckage in the western district of Myagdi, a mountainous area around 130 miles from Kathmandu. Though hampered by both bad weather and difficult terrain, rescuers managed to recover all twenty-three bodies by Thursday. Investigators believe that an avalanche the day before, which blanketed the area in a huge dust cloud, could have caused the accident, although weather conditions at the flight’s origin and destination were both favorable and the flight was cleared for takeoff on Wednesday. Today, another small plane carrying eleven people crashed in a field in the mountains of Kalikot district, also in western Nepal. Two have been reported dead, and investigations of the cause are still underway. This week’s fatal crashes are the fourteenth and fifteenth that Nepal has suffered since the turn of the century. In 2013, for safety reasons, the European Union banned all Nepalese planes flying to its territory.
4. Chinese investor buys Australian dairy company. The sale of Australia’s largest dairy farm, Van Diemen’s Land in Tasmania, was approved after consideration by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board. Lu Xianfeng, a Chinese billionaire who runs the investment firm Moon Lake Investments, purchased Van Diemen’s Land. The deal, worth $200 million, is expected to create up to ninety-five new jobs in Tasmania and will require Moon Lake to adhere with local tax laws. The acquisition generated controversy in Australia over food security and the effect it could have on dairy and infant formula prices. A 2008 scandal involving tainted milk powder in China led demand for foreign formula to soar, and some Australians worry that much of the milk produced by Van Diemen’s could now be shipped abroad. The sale of the Australian dairy farm comes at a moment both when Chinese firms are increasingly looking to acquire agricultural assets abroad and of growing concern over Chinese acquisitions of American companies.
5. Tajikistan discusses bailout package with the IMF. Tajikistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are currently discussing a possible bailout program for the country worth as much as 500 million dollars. Tajikistan is Central Asia’s poorest country and is suffering economically now more than ever due in large part to Russia’s recession. As of mid-week, the Tajikistan government had not yet decided whether to make a formal request for assistance from the IMF but their leadership was quoted as saying it was “in a dialogue with the fund.” Tajikistan’s economic troubles indicate the ripple effect of collapsing commodity prices worldwide, especially for oil. While Tajikistan itself is not oil rich, it benefited from the Russian oil boom as an estimated half of Tajikistan’s working-age men flocked to Russia for oil-industry jobs and sent money back to their families in Tajikistan. According to the IMF, such remittances account for 45 percent of the country’s GDP. The U.S. dollar value of those remittances fell by 32 percent between January and June of 2015. A report released by the IMF regarding the economic situation in the country calls for swift action by Dushanbe—the Tajik capital—and a gloomy outlook for what is to come.
Bonus: Guide dogs a rare breed in China. This week, the kidnapping and subsequent return of Qiaoqiao, a Chinese guide dog, drew a great deal of attention to the current state of guide dogs and the visually impaired throughout the country. Although by one count there are at least 12 million visually impaired people living in China, guide dogs only number between seventy and one hundred, ten of which reside in Beijing. The city temporarily allowed the use of guide dogs during the 2008 Paralympic Games, but the country as a whole did not legally permit them in public places until 2012. Training the dogs, which can cost upwards of $20,000 a year, has proven prohibitively expensive. Nearly 300 visually impaired people in China have submitted applications for guide dogs, but the waiting period is more than a few years because of the lack of availability. The country’s first and only guide dog training center has eighty dogs currently in training and twenty more puppies expected to be starting soon.