Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Ariella Rotenberg, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. North Korea announces its “H-bomb of justice.” Jaws dropped around the world as news of North Korea’s fourth nuclear test lit up phones, tablets, and televisions on Tuesday. Those in South Korea and China reported tremors caused by the detonation, which registered as a 5.1-magnitude earthquake--almost identical to North Korea’s last nuclear test in 2013. North Korea’s official news agency released a statement claiming a successful test of a hydrogen bomb. Although the seismic evidence is consistent with a nuclear explosion, many doubt that North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb. Still, the test has renewed the call for action, and many are looking to China to toughen its stance toward North Korea. The UN Security Council is expected to layer on the sanctions, which so far have been ineffective in curbing North Korea’s nuclear program. Despite international isolation, Pyongyang appears bent on boosting the Kim Jong-un regime’s legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens through its display of nuclear capability, and on pursuing the unattainable goal of gaining the world’s recognition as a legitimate nuclear weapons state.
2. Literary disappearances rattle Hong Kong. Over the past week, anxieties have been mounting in Hong Kong over the mysterious disappearance of publisher Lee Bo and four of his colleagues. Mr. Lee, a British citizen, is the editor of a Hong Kong–based publishing house and a major shareholder in a bookstore that specializes in reading material critical of the Chinese Communist Party. Many suspect that the mainland Chinese government was involved in the disappearances, calling into question its respect for freedom of speech in Hong Kong and its agreement with Britain to allow Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” doctrine to persist until 2047. In early 2014, another Hong Kong publisher was arrested while crossing into the mainland, but Mr. Lee’s case, if mainland authorities were indeed involved, might signal that Chinese security forces are becoming more brazen. CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Jerome Cohen stated that such actions reflect “not only the extending reach of Chinese law, but the extending reach of Chinese lawlessness.”
3. Myanmar sets first meeting date for new parliament. Two months after historic elections, Myanmar’s new parliament led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) will begin meeting on February 1. Though the NLD captured approximately 80 percent of votes in the election, one quarter of parliamentary seats still remain allocated to the military. Many of the incoming members of parliament lack experience in the legislature, and thus the NLD has decided to offer a series of classes to prepare incoming politicians. Among the first orders of business for the parliament will be for the upper house, lower house, and the military to each put forward a candidate for president, who will then be selected by the vote of the entire legislature. The new president will take power after March 31 when the sitting president steps down. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi is ineligible for the presidency due to a provision barring those with close foreign relatives from serving in the position, but she has indicated that she will serve “above” whomever is chosen as president.
4. Delhi institutes odd-even traffic control program. Starting Monday, the Delhi government instituted traffic restrictions that limit private cars on the road depending on their license plate numbers. These restrictions are aimed at curbing dangerous air pollution levels in Delhi; the city’s air was ranked the most polluted of 1600 cities studied by the World Health Organization. Monday was the start of a two-week experimental period for the odd-even rules and the city has seen noticeably reduced traffic. The city government deployed thousands of traffic personnel to enforce the restrictions. Over one hundred violators were caught and fined in the first hour of the first day. Furthermore, an additional three thousand buses were deployed to help transport those who were on their prohibited driving day. Promisingly, unlike on a typical day when the packed buses would be stopped in traffic, the buses this week were able to complete their routes. Proponents of the plan hope that experiences like the faster bus rides will help garner support for the program.
5. Chinese court to hear same-sex marriage case. A district court in the central Chinese city of Changsha has agreed to hear a lawsuit brought by a gay man named Sun Wenlin against the district’s civil affairs bureau for refusing to register Sun and his partner for marriage. Sun argues that China’s marriage law only specifies marriage as being between a husband and wife, not between a man and a woman. This is the first time a case on same-sex marriage has been heard by a court in China, making it the latest indication that attitudes about homosexuality are changing in the country. Until the mid-90s, China criminalized homosexuality and continued to officially label it a mental illness until 2001. Last year, a college student brought a court case against the Chinese Ministry of Education challenging anti-gay bias in the country’s textbooks and gay right activists claimed victory in a fight over a documentary on mothers of gay children that was censored by video-hosting sites.
Bonus: China goes to Hollywood. In a historic deal, a Chinese real estate firm has agreed to purchase a majority stake in Legendary Entertainment, the producer of popular films like Inception and The Dark Knight, valuing the movie studio between $3 and $4 billion. The Dalian Wanda Group, China’s largest property developer founded with just $80,000 of borrowed money by Wang Jianlin, now China’s richest person, will be the first Chinese company to control a Hollywood studio. The move is no surprise given Wanda’s aggressive acquisition strategy, in areas ranging from healthcare to ecommerce, and the fact that movies are a big business in China. The purchase is also part of a broader trend of increasing foreign direct investment in the U.S. by Chinese companies, which grew from just $2.5 to $57 billion over the past decade.