Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Bochen Han, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Justice Department announces action against 1MDB. The ongoing scandal surrounding Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB took a dramatic turn this week when the U.S. Justice Department announced plans to seize $1 billion in assets as part of an investigation into money laundering and funds improperly taken from 1MDB. While the fund was intended to boost Malaysia’s development, some of the money appears to have instead gone toward enriching Prime Minister Najib Razak, his stepson, and other associates. Among the activities undertaken with siphoned money are financing of the movie The Wolf of Wall Street and the purchase of a private jet as well as properties in New York, California, and London. Overall officials believe that more than $3.5 billion was stolen and this action is the largest pursued under the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. Although Najib is only alluded to as “Malaysian Official 1,” this still marks the first time he has been officially linked to the case. He denies that the money was stolen and rather attributes the new wealth in his accounts to a personal donation given by the Saudi royal family. The Malaysian attorney general has previously said Najib did not obtain the funds through corruption, but Najib’s press secretary said Malaysia would participate in “any lawful investigation.” Other nations have also gotten involved with Switzerland seizing a Van Gogh and two Monet paintings and Singapore announcing that it had taken assets valued at $177 million. These actions against 1MDB come amidst a broader international debate about money laundering and ownership disclosure set off by the Panama Papers leak.
2. Beijing backs the Philippine’s grisly war on drugs. In a statement released on Tuesday by the Chinese embassy in Manila, Beijing professed its willingness to cooperate with the Philippines in its fight against drugs, calling narcotics a “common enemy of mankind.” Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has vowed to end crime within six months of taking office on June 30, has taken a brutal tack: “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself,” he said in a speech earlier this month. Since May, more than two hundred suspected drug traffickers have been killed in confrontations with law enforcement officers, whom Duterte has offered to pardon if human rights advocates accuse them of abusing authority. He claims that many of the unclaimed bodies were Chinese nationals, and questioned why “most of the guys who come here [from China] do drugs.” Though China executes more drug offenders than any other country overall, drug cases most likely involve seizures and arrests rather than extrajudicial killings. Though the director-general of China’s Ministry of Public Security’s narcotics control bureau has stated that “we are willing to take all kinds of measures to combat drugs together,” just how far is China willing to go in its support of Duterte’s gruesome offensive?
3. Pakistani hotlines outdo hospitals in targeting dengue. A recent Science Advances study in Pakistan reveals that triage hotlines are far more effective than hospitals in forecasting outbreaks of infectious diseases such as dengue. Dengue, a mosquito-borne tropical virus, is typically found in urban and semi-urban areas and causes flu-like symptoms that occasionally lead to fatal complications, particularly among children. While there is no treatment, early detection and access to care reduces fatality rates to under 1 percent. The Pakistani researchers observed 300,000 calls to a health hotline in Lahore over a period of two years, where patients were asked to provide their symptoms and addresses. Using this information, epidemiologists were able to accurately predict dengue patient numbers in ten municipal sub-regions two to three weeks in advance of an outbreak. They then dispatched mosquito-control teams to targeted neighborhoods, rather than randomly dispersing them across the city of ten million people. This research will prove particularly helpful following a 2011 outbreak of dengue in Punjab that caused 21,000 infections and 350 deaths.
4. Bangladesh court charges forty-one in Rana Plaza case. Three years after a garment factory collapse in Dhaka that resulted in over 1,100 deaths, a court formally charged thirty-eight people with murder and three with helping the factory owner, and principal accused, escape after the incident. Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest garment exporter, relies on garments for about 80 percent of its exports and four million jobs. The collapse of the eight-story complex sparked demands for greater workplace safety across the globe and put pressure on foreign companies importing from Bangladesh to act. The industry has since recovered following a period of factory closures and reassessments, but the terrorist attack in Dhaka’s diplomatic enclave earlier this month has reignited concerns over the industry’s future. Questions also remain over the progress made to improve worker safety and rights.
5. Baidu again under investigation. Following an investigative report published last weekend, sponsored search results at Baidu, China’s largest search engine provider, have again come under scrutiny. According to the Beijing News, illegal ads for online gambling sites appear in Baidu search results late at night, but not during the day. The paper claims that Baidu has received nearly $45,000 in revenue for these ads, which were registered through third-party advertising agencies and spoofed real companies which do not provide gambling services, and are thus legally allowed to advertise online (gambling is illegal in China). China’s top internet regulator is investigating the incident and state media issued a flurry of articles condemning the company. Baidu has been under scrutiny since earlier this year, when it was revealed that ads on the service for a shady state-run medical clinic offering fake treatments played a role in the death of a college student.
Bonus: KFC at center of dispute over disputing South China Sea dispute decision. As Chinese media ramped up criticism of last week’s decision on the status of South China Sea features by a United Nations tribunal and claimed the whole incident had been orchestrated by the United States, protests targeting Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) outlets as a symbol of the United States appeared in several Chinese cities this week. However, authorities were quick to shut down the demonstrations, arresting organizers, blocking the term “KFC” on social media, and ordering news outlets to “not hype… illegal rallies and demonstrations.” State media also criticized the protesters, calling them unpatriotic and pointing out that KFCs in China employ Chinese people. And the Communist Youth League urged patriotic youth to stay home and post anti-U.S. memes online rather than demonstrating in the streets.