Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of March 18, 2016
Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Ariella Rotenberg, Gabriel Walker, and Pei-Yu Wei look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Bangladeshi bank chief resigns after $101 million cyber theft. The governor of Bangladesh’s central bank stepped down in the wake of a financial heist involving hackers, casinos, and multiple Asian nations. In early February, $81 million were transferred electronically from Bangladesh’s Federal Reserve Bank of New York account to the Philippines, mainly to accounts at the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation. The funds were eventually laundered through casinos, which are not required to adhere to some of the nation’s money-laundering regulations. Hackers also attempted other transactions, including one to Sri Lanka for $20 million, which was stopped after a typo in the transfer request raised alarms. The crime has sparked a debate between officials in Bangladesh and at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York over culpability, with Bangladesh threatening to sue the New York Fed to get the money back, since the Fed did not confirm transfers made with the Bangladeshi central bank’s SWIFT codes. The Fed has maintained that it followed appropriate procedures and that its systems remain secure.
2. Another district falls to the Taliban in Afghanistan. A district of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province fell the Taliban this past Tuesday, making an important addition to the insurgent-controlled area. Government forces fled the government center in Khan Deshin after a firefight that lasted from Monday night until five in the morning on Tuesday. After Tuesday, the Taliban has overthrown the government centers in five of fourteen districts in Helmand Province. At least two additional districts have large areas of under Taliban control, while government forces are still in those government centers. In at least four other districts, the Taliban is considered to be very active. By many calculations, more than half of the province is now under insurgent control.
3. There’s money to be made in China’s aging. That’s the bet that Bain Capital is making, at least. The company announced this week that it had purchased a controlling stake in Asia Pacific Medical Group, a medical-services provider that operates seven hospitals and twenty-two clinics throughout China and Southeast Asia, according to the company’s website. China is aging rapidly—by 2050, the country’s median age will be forty-nine and 26 percent of the population will be over the age of sixty-five—compounding its already challenging demographic problems. The Chinese government is struggling to respond. In October 2015, the government ended the one-child policy. And late last month, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security announced it would release a plan next year to raise the retirement age by 2022, likely to counteract a looming funding shortage for the state’s pension commitments.
4. Trump sparks alarm in Japan. As polls opened this Tuesday for primaries in five states, the Japanese government is faced with the possibility of its closest trading partner and security ally electing Donald Trump as president. Having criticized Japan on his campaign trail for manipulating the yen and hurting U.S. employment, and for “playing unfairly” on defense, Trump’s remarks have led to analysts noting that due to the public sentiment he has stirred up, Japan-U.S. ties could suffer even if Trump were not nominated or elected. Japanese media have become increasingly critical of Trump, with one column proclaiming, “Trump’s Japan-bashing shows why he’s unfit to lead America.” Originally entertained by Trump’s campaign, Japanese officials now find themselves facing the challenge of identifying the right moment to step in and correct the misunderstandings caused by Trump’s statements, as they fear that rushed correction of Trump’s statements may backfire. Japan is not the only country that has started to hit back. China, another country that Trump has often targeted, ran an opinion piece in the state-owned Global Times newspaper this week that labeled Trump as “big-mouthed” and a “clown,” and compared his rise to those of Mussolini and Hitler.
5. Argentine coast guard sinks Chinese fishing boat. On Wednesday, in coastal waters around 750 miles south of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s coast guard sank a Chinese fishing boat operating illegally in the country’s exclusive economic zone. According to reports, the Chinese trawler responded to initial warning shots by shutting off its lights and trying to ram the Argentine ship, prompting the latter to fire defensive shots and sink the Chinese vessel. Four crew members were detained, and twenty-eight more were rescued by nearby Chinese ships. The confrontation was a rare occurrence, as Chinese fishing vessels are typically cooperative with the Argentine coast guard. China has subsequently demanded an investigation into the dispute to ensure the safety and rights of Chinese fishermen if similar incidents should ever occur in the future. China has the world’s largest fishing fleet, with nearly 2,500 “distant-water” vessels operating around the world far from Chinese coastal waters.
Bonus: A transplanted Afghan bazaar offers artisans a receptive audience in Washington, D.C. Potters, carpenters, rug weavers, jewelers, and a host of other Afghan artisans are setting up shop at the Smithsonian Institution for the next eleven months. Afghan artisans will have the opportunity to share their work in a recreated bazaar environment as part of the Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan exhibit. Turquoise Mountains is a break from traditional museum exhibits and intended to be an all-sensory experience based on the “IPOP” exhibit elements—ideas, people, objects, and physical. In addition to offering a unique museum experience, the exhibit also provides a platform for the artisans to renew global interest in the old traditions of the Silk Road.