Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Indonesians protest ride-hailing apps. Traffic in notoriously congested Jakarta came to a near standstill this week when approximately ten thousand taxi drivers protested popular ride-hailing apps like Grab, Go-Jek, and Uber, which have driven down taxi fares in the city. Some of the protesters turned violent and attacked other taxis not participating in the protests, leading to the arrest of eighty-three individuals. Many of the protesting drivers work for the Blue Bird taxi company, which has approximately 32,500 cars, making its fleet larger than those of Grab and Uber combined. In response, President Joko Widodo advocated a “fair” resolution between traditional and app-based transportation companies. Two days after the protests, the transportation minister announced that to maintain operations in Indonesia, app-based services will have to register their vehicles and work with traditional transportation firms. While the Indonesian government contemplated banning such apps last December, it ultimately decided against it.
2. Uber sues Ola, India-based ride app competitor. Uber filed a lawsuit earlier this week against Bangalore’s ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd., which owns Ola, another popular ride-sharing app. Uber has accused Ola of creating tens of thousands of fake accounts and using them to falsely place orders to Uber, which Uber insists disrupts its business. Ola has denied the allegations and claims that it is a publicity stunt for Uber to deflect press about their shrinking market share in India. Uber and Ola have been battling for market share for a long time, and this is only the latest flare-up in tensions. The fight parallels that between Uber and its rival in the United States, Lyft. Similar to Lyft, which competes with Uber over lower prices, drivers, and market share, Ola has given Uber a run for its money in India.
3. Self-nominated independents try for National Assembly seats in Vietnam. In an exciting first, around one hundred potential independent candidates, more than ever before, have registered to run in the May legislative elections in Vietnam. The country, which is governed by the Communist Party of Vietnam, has allowed independents to run since 2002, but until now only seven, who have typically been Party members or individuals with government connections, have ever won seats. To some, the diversity of this year’s independents—including activists like Mai Khoi, a singer-songwriter with a progressive bent, and Nguyen Cong Vuong, a stand-up comedian—represent an increasingly open and pluralistic political process. Some government organs and state media, however, have overtly criticized independent candidates as “troublesome citizens.” Critics of the electoral system argue that it is designed to be controlled by the Party. The real test of Vietnam’s political process and democratic spirit is yet to come, as registered candidates still need further approval to run in May.
4. Abe meets with Nobel laureates for economic advice. For two weeks in a row, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz for economic advice, both of whom are outspoken supporters of aggressive stimulus measures. As expected, they both advised Abe against a further tax increase that the country’s cabinet is scheduled to enact in April 2017. The planned hike for the consumption tax, from 8 to 10 percent, is a result of an agreement made among three political parties in 2012, including Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), then an opposition party led by Sadakazu Tanigaki. Abe’s close economic advisors are also opposed to the planned tax increase, as it only undermines Abe’s economic stimulus policies to encourage household spending. The Japanese economy still suffers from weak consumption, but Abe has stated in the Diet that the postponement of the consumption tax hike is a political decision. While he often emphasizes his willingness to implement the hike as a responsible party leader of the LDP, the decision to meet with Krugman and Stiglitz at this time suggests, by some reports, that Abe is determined to put off increasing the consumption tax.
5. Party assets contentious issue in race for KMT chair. Candidates for chairperson of Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT), the political party of outgoing president Ma Ying-jeou, all support increasing transparency of the party’s assets, but have disagreed on how the assets should be handled. The KMT is one of the wealthiest political parties in the world, with assets rumored to be worth more than $3 billion (although the party itself claims to only have $500 million), many acquired when the KMT confiscated the assets of Japanese nationals in Taiwan following Japan’s defeat in World War II. Since the Republic of China democratized in the 1990s and other parties were allowed to operate, critics of the KMT have repeatedly called on the party to return its assets to the state, but the KMT has been slow to act. The dispute was stirred up this week over rumors that the party is looking to sell the Grand Hotel in Yuanshan—a landmark of Taipei, the nation’s capital—to an American businessman. While it’s not clear the hotel is even owned in the party, the rumors seem to be substantiated by the fact that KMT assets are viewed as too toxic for any domestic investors to touch.
Bonus: Facebook founder tries to add Chinese friends. On a visit to China this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censorship and propaganda chief Liu Yunshan. According to state media, while meeting with Liu Zuckerberg “spoke highly of the progress China has made in internet field, saying he would work with Chinese peers to create a better world in cyberspace.” The social network founder followed that up by posting on Facebook about his jog through smoggy Beijing; critics were quick to point out that despite “speaking highly” of China’s approach to the Internet, he was quick to use a VPN to skirt Chinese censors and post on Facebook. In response, those same censors rushed to Zuckerberg’s defense after Chinese netizens began teasing him. Why is Zuckerberg so eager to genuflect to the Chinese government, while throwing temper tantrums over restrictions on Facebook’s business imposed by other governments? Perhaps because China’s 660 million Internet users are an appealing market. Let’s hope Zuckerberg doesn’t stoop so low that they don’t want him once Facebook’s let back in to the country.