from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of June 10, 2016

Vietnam-fish-protests

June 10, 2016

Vietnam-fish-protests
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Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Poisoned Vietnamese fish fuel popular discontent. A massive die-off of fish has occurred along 120 miles of coastline in Vietnam, where hundreds of residents in traditional fishing villages have fallen ill from eating the poisoned catch. This could have a devastating impact on the nation’s fishing industry that earned $6.6 billion from seafood exports last year alone. Most suspect the immediate cause of the die-off to be the release of toxic waste from a steel plant owned by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Group, which invested $10 billion in the enterprise. Despite Vietnamese officials’ statement that they failed to find evidence linking the fish kill to the factory’s activities, hundreds across the country have demonstrated against the communist government’s prioritization of foreign direct investment and industrialization over the protection of population public health. The Vietnamese prime minister has promised to investigate any agency, organization, or individual in violation of environmental regulations.

2. Japan aims to counter aging population with foreign workers. The Japanese government announced last week that it will seek to reduce barriers to permanent residency for skilled foreigners who wish to work in Japan. It also hopes to increase the proportion of foreign students who remain in Japan following their graduation from Japanese universities. Aging and shrinking populations are leading contributors to slow economic growth throughout East Asia’s developed economies. Japan’s predicament is particularly severe: its population has declined by more than one million since 2008 and a third of the population is above the age of sixty. Analysts are skeptical of the new immigration proposals’ ability to counter these trends, however. To maintain its current population level, Japan would need nearly 400,000 immigrants annually for the next thirty-five years; it has received only 300,000, on average, over the last several years. To get to that number, and truly jump-start the economy, some argue that the country needs to allow in not just skilled foreigners, but also blue collar workers.

3. Corruption tarnishes the Afghan gem trade. While Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, estimated to be worth up to $1 trillion in 2010, could be a major source of government revenue, instead it appears to be helping fund militias and the Taliban. A Global Witness report released this week focused on corruption surrounding the lapis lazuli trade in Badakhshan, a province in northeastern Afghanistan. In 2013, the Lajwardeen Mining Company secured the rights to a major lapis mine, but less than a month later, a local militia took it over. Rather than opposing this usurpation of mining rights, the Afghan National Security Council actually ordered the contract’s termination. Corruption also runs rampant in the marble trade in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, much of which remains under Taliban rule. According to the United Nations, the Taliban earned approximately $10 million from the marble trade, including taxes paid by private firms selling marble to the government. Other estimates place the amount as high as $18 million per year. Overall, minerals are believed to be the Taliban’s second largest source of income.

4. United States accuses Chinese fighter jet of “unsafe” interception. The U.S. military accused a Chinese fighter jet for conducting an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. reconnaissance plane that was operating in international airspace over the East China Sea. The U.S. Pacific Command stated that the Chinese jet was flying too fast and too close to the U.S. aircraft, calling it a case of “improper airmanship.” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei emphasized that Chinese pilots act in accordance with laws and regulations, and that crux of the problem is continuous U.S. reconnaissance activities in China’s coastal areas. The interception occurred as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Beijing for the eighth session of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. In May, two Chinese fighter jets flew within fifty feet of a U.S. aircraft over the South China Sea, an act that the U.S. Department of Defense deemed to have violated a previous agreement between the two governments. Both incidents are considered the latest signs of increasing tension in the East and South China Seas between China and the United States and its allies.

5. Seoul plans $9.5 billion infusion for beleaguered shipping sector. In recent years, weak global trade has hit South Korea’s shipping industry hard. The country’s three largest shipbuilders, for example, which once controlled almost 70 percent of the global market, lost a combined $4.9 billion during last year alone. Hyundai Merchant, one of South Korea’s main container operators, recently managed to renegotiate debts in order to avoid bankruptcy. The heavy losses pose a risk not only to the 200,000 people employed by the shipping industry, but also to banks, which hold over $40 billion in loans to top shipping firms. To help stave off financial ruin, the South Korean government and the Bank of Korea will establish a nearly $9.5 billion fund to buy bonds issued by two policy lenders that have helped shippers stay afloat. In another glimmer of hope for the flagging industry, Iranian companies have recently reached deals with South Korean shipyards, valued at around $2.4 billion, to facilitate trade between the two countries.

Bonus: Creation story, not creationism, sparks outrage in China. In America, debates over teaching the book of Genesis creation story in schools usually revolve around the science classroom. In China, at least in recent weeks, the same story has sparked a very different kind of controversy: not over the validity of Darwinism, but over why the story was included in a middle-school literature textbook. Netizens and officials alike criticized the book for including the story, representative of Western values and religion, in place of a more traditional Chinese passage. Last year, China’s education minister called to “never let textbooks promoting western values enter into our classes,” or at least those ideas that “defame the leadership of the party or smear socialism.” But one Global Times op-ed contrarily called for more restraint in hasty public criticism, and argued that including such passages would expand students’ perspectives. “Is it a myth or is it religion?,” one article asked. “The key is perspective.”

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