Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Bochen Han, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Dhaka attacks designed to “reverberate globally.” Bangladesh is still reeling from last Friday when at least five Bangladeshi men stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s affluent Gulshan neighborhood and unleashed horror within. The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the assault soon after it started, warning that similar attacks would ensue until its version of Islamic law was established worldwide, and releasing images apparently depicting the inside of the restaurant during the nearly twelve-hour siege in which citizens of five different nationalities died. While the Hasina government has denied that IS was behind the attacks—insisting that the gunmen were linked to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a domestic jihadist group seeking to establish an Islamic emirate—independent security analysts say the sophistication of the attack, along with the fact that the targets were mostly foreign, leave little doubt that the perpetrators were at least in contact with international terror groups. The style of the attack is an escalation of the country’s recent spate of Islamist violence, which was carried out largely using primitive weapons like machetes. This attack has particularly shaken the country, given that the restaurant was located in a high-security complex, moments away from the embassies that make up the diplomatic enclave, and that the perpetrators came from well-educated and affluent backgrounds, casting doubt once again to the well-worn narrative that poverty and hopelessness are the causes of terrorism. Analysts worldwide are calling for the Hasina government to take a more active stance in acknowledging the presence of IS in the country, arguing that continued cynicism would only further destabilize the region.
2. UN urges Myanmar government to curb violence against Muslims. Buddhist village mobs in Myanmar have burned down two mosques in northern Kachin and central Bago states in the span of merely one week, resulting from personal and construction disputes, respectively. The UN special human rights envoy to Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, recently completed a twelve-day tour of the country and urged Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to take more deliberate action against these attacks. Violence and discrimination against Muslims in predominately Buddhist Myanmar has persisted since 2012, when rioting forced 100,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority group out of their homes in Rakhine State. The 1.1 million stateless Rohingya are classified by the Myanmar government as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, 140,000 of whom are now confined to displacement camps where their movement is restricted and they cannot access basic goods and service. According to the UN, at least 86,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar between 2012 and 2014 for Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, where many are deported or subject to human trafficking.
3. Hacker’s arrest sparks debate in China. As the Chinese government moves forward on legislation governing cybersecurity, the arrest of a suspected hacker has raised questions about the best way to promote online security. In December 2015, a young security researcher named Yuan Wei discovered a vulnerability in the networks of online dating platform Jiayuan. The website fixed the problem, but then a few months later went to the police, claiming they’d been hacked. A police investigation determined that Yuan was the culprit and arrested him, sparking a debate over “white hat” hackers who attempt to break into networks to discover vulnerabilities so that the networks can be made more secure. According to one Chinese lawyer, Yuan is not culpable if he did not damage or steal any data from Jiayuan’s computers. However, Yuan’s defenders argue that accessing data is often necessary to convince companies that the threat to their systems is real. The debate comes just as the Chinese legislature is reviewing a proposed Cybersecurity Law. While some Chinese experts claim the law will provide greater protections for white-hat hackers like Yuan Wei, a straight reading of the current draft suggests that it would simply further criminalize hacking, even if done in the public interest.
4. New South Korean anti-corruption law draws criticism. When the South Korean legislature approved a new anti-graft law last March, the regulations were considered an ambitious effort to curtail bribery in a culture with a long gift-giving tradition and in the wake of various corruption scandals. Indeed, South Korea ranked thirty-seventh in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2015, among the worst for OECD countries. However, concerns are now emerging that reducing gift-giving will hurt farmers and small business in an already slowing economy. Among the provisions in the new law are fines of 30 million won ($26,000) and a potential three-year prison sentence for officials engaged in bribery. The law also placed a limit on meals and gifts that government workers can accept of 30,000 won and 50,000 won respectively (approximately $25 and $43). Advocacy groups affiliated with these sectors have argued that the price levels allowed for gifts and meals should be raised. The Korea Federation of Small Businesses estimates potential annual losses of 2.6 trillion won ($2.2 billion) from the new regulations. The law is expected to come into force this fall, but whether amendments will be made before then remains to be seen.
5. Yield on Japan’s twenty-year bond dips below rock bottom. This week, yields of Japanese government bonds (JGBs) sunk to record lows in response to deep unease about the state of the world economy. The twenty-year JGB yield even became negative for the first time ever. While a grim turn of events for investors, the occasion was something of a boost for the Japanese government, which auctioned off ten-year JGBs (with a negative 0.255 percent yield) for a profit of around 60 billion yen ($590 million) on Tuesday. Sovereign debt has increasingly become a haven for otherwise worried investors, despite the fact that the amount of global bonds with negative yields has reached nearly $10 billion. Currency markets have also reacted strongly to the Brexit vote two weeks ago, with the yen at a four-year high, yuan at a six-year low, and the pound at a thirty-one-year low against the dollar.
Bonus: Grandpa tells a story (about the South China Sea). In a new animation produced by CCTV America, a chipper white-haired man gives his granddaughter a three-minute rundown of the South China Sea maritime disputes, or at least his version of it. Most of grandpa’s story is historical, beginning when Chinese boats were the “first to discover” the now-disputed features during the Han Dynasty, around two thousand years ago. His account gives the impression that the swath of water, and all it contains, belongs to China simply by dint of history. In reality, China has never made an official “historic claim” to the area encompassed by its nine-dash line. The vast majority of international legal experts, in fact, have concluded that China’s historic claim over the South China Sea is invalid. One expert has suggested that the Chinese government uses the concept of historical rights to inject “confusion into the conversation” while the country consolidates its near-seas interests. This simple animation seems to be lifted from the playbook of China’s traditional statecraft, using a kind of “cartographic aggression” to reformulate history to bolster nationalism and territorial claims. CCTV America has produced some other snazzy videos about the South China Sea dispute, but viewers should be careful lest they think that grandpa’s tale tells the whole story.