Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Bochen Han, Theresa Lou, and Gabriella Meltzer look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Nepalis seeking employment in Afghanistan face severe risks. Faced with a faltering economy and few job opportunities following the devastating April 2015 earthquake, thousands of Nepalis have sought employment in Afghanistan as security contractors at foreign missions, military bases, and embassies. An attack by the Taliban that killed fourteen Nepalese guards hired by private security firm Sabre International for the Canadian embassy in Kabul demonstrates the inherent risk involved in this venture. Many of these foreign employees have remarked that they are more financially and physically vulnerable than their Western counterparts. The Nepalese guards must work several months to recover enormous debts incurred by broker fees to secure their posts and are paid lower wages. In addition, they are escorted around the city in regular minibuses rather than armored cars, and live in separate facilities with far more stringent rules. Following the attack, the Nepalese government has announced that it is restricting all citizen travel to Afghanistan and will facilitate the travel of those who wish to return to Nepal.
2. China suspends diplomatic communication with Taiwan. This week, China suspended communication mechanisms between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan due to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s failure to endorse the 1992 Consensus. The 1992 Consensus refers to the tacit understanding that both parties recognize the “one China” principle, but each side has its own interpretation of the term. Beijing views the acceptance of the consensus as the prerequisite for normalized cross-strait relations and thus blames Taiwan for the suspended communication. Tsai maintains that Taiwan will seek other options to continue dialogue with China. Ties between the two sides have chilled after Tsai and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party took power in January’s presidential and legislative elections. The decision to cut communication with Taipei is seen as Beijing’s latest effort to hinder Tsai’s domestic agenda of reviving the island’s slowing economy.
3. United States upgrades Thailand in human trafficking report. The U.S. Department of State raised Thailand from Tier 3, for those doing most poorly in addressing human trafficking issues, to Tier 2 in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. In recent years sex trafficking and the trafficking of Rohingya involved in fishing were major concerns in Thailand. Observers largely attributed this year’s upgrade to improvements in labor conditions and anti-trafficking efforts in the seafood industry. Some speculate, however, that geopolitics may color the objectivity of the TIP report. Last year, Voice of America reported that the rankings of fourteen nations with strategic value had been increased. Particularly controversial was the upgrade of Malaysia, which the Bangkok Post called “blatantly politicized” due to Malaysia’s involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which were ongoing at the time. Some speculate that Thailand’s upgrade this year occurred not only because of actual improvements, but also because the United States was worried that the Thai government was listing too far towards China. Still, one can hope that the desire to maintain Tier 2 status will encourage further Thai efforts to crack down on trafficking.
4. UN human rights rapporteur wraps up visit to Myanmar. Today, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee concluded her first official visit to the National League for Democracy-led regime. The twelve-day visit, made at the invitation of the Myanmar government, allowed Lee to assess the progress in implementation of recommendations she had made in March to the administration, the findings of which will be released in a report to the UN General Assembly in September. Lee’s meetings with authorities and civil-society groups struck a firm but uncontroversial tone amidst an ongoing battle over words that had her previously condemned by the government and continuously reviled by radical nationalist Buddhist groups. Myanmar’s state counselor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi received Lee early last week, during which Aung San Suu Kyi reiterated that the government will—and that outside entities should—avoid using “divisive” and “emotive” terms like “Bengali” and “Rohingya” to describe the persecuted Muslim minority group in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state (and rather use “Muslim community in the Rakhine state”). Lee’s delicate balancing hasn’t fully pleased either side, however, with Muslim groups lamenting her lack of commitment to them on behalf of the UN, and Buddhist groups preemptively dismissing her upcoming report as “biased.”
5. Vietnam considers motorcycle ban. As traffic congestion in Hanoi worsens, local officials have announced a plan to ban motorcycles in the city center starting in 2025. The city currently has more than 4.9 million motorcycles, with between eight and twenty thousand new ones being registered in the city each month in 2015. However, meeting growing demand for transportation will require expanding public transit systems, and Hanoi officials also intend to double the number of buses and construct two new urban rail lines. China has also begun implementing similar restrictions in recent months, banning electric bikes and limiting traffic in the nation’s congested capitol.
Bonus: Falun Gong fights back on the street and in court. Flushing, NY, home to one of the largest Falun Gong followings in North America, is also now the birthplace of a Brooklyn court battle between two Chinese immigrant groups. In a federal lawsuit filed in March 2015, Falun Gong members have accused the Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance (CACWA), a group with alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party, of pursuing an “ongoing campaign of violent assaults, threats, intimidation, and other abuses” against them. Falun Gong practitioners are a stalwart presence on crowded Flushing streets, often handing out flyers that promote the spiritual practice and raise awareness about persecution the group faces within China. CACWA has its own counter-propaganda that refers to Falun Gong as an evil cult. Members of the two groups occasionally engage in scuffles, described as anything from “typical” New York City street arguments to “attacks,” depending on the perspective. With the final ruling impending, the latest official news is that the plaintiff’s motion to seal the case from the public record has been denied. But in a battle for hearts and minds, can there really be a winner?