from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of May 13, 2016


May 13, 2016

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Climate Change


North Korea

Energy and Environment

Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Philippine congress gains its first transgender member. Despite the country’s discriminatory laws against gay and transgender people, Liberal Party candidate Geraldine Roman received more than 60 percent of the vote in her home province of Bataan in northern Philippines. Roman comes from a long line of politicians, and will take the congressional seat occupied by her mother during the previous three terms. Campaigning on promises to improve public hospitals and roads and fight for equal opportunity for all, Roman insists that she is not a “novelty candidate” and seeks to continue her family’s legacy of public service. Roman will also push for an anti-discrimination bill and an end to the law that prevents transgender Filipinos from changing their names and genders. Overcoming “bigotry, hatred, and discrimination,” she also hopes that her election will inspire other LGBT Filipinos to consider government service.

2. Economists offer “Twilight Zone” monetary policies to salvage Japanese economy. Despite years of economic stimulus under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan is still fighting on all fronts against low GDP growth, stagnant prices, weak consumer spending, and other economic woes. Recently, Japanese and foreign economists have put forth some far-fetched prescriptions heretofore relegated to textbooks and academic journals. These ideas include “helicopter money,” which would require the Bank of Japan to essentially print free money for the government to spend on infrastructure projects and stimulus measures, and various methods of incentivizing corporate and consumer spending like taxing low-risk assets and setting negative interest rates on deposits. But each of these approaches bears inherent risks, and none is a surefire way of boosting growth. For example, recent negative interest rates on some deposits have done nothing to depreciate the Yen (which would boost Japanese exports), and the currency in fact has surged in the past two months, contrary to expectations. A number of prominent economists have suggested giving “helicopter money” a try, potentially as a last resort, but the approach has no precedent and could possibly be illegal by trespassing upon the division of fiscal and monetary responsibilities within the government. Whatever the Abe administration’s next step may be, it seems there is no simple solution—desperate times call for desperate measures.

3. Kim Jong-un promises “a responsible nuclear state.” The seventh congress of the North Korean Workers’ party (WPK)—the first of such meeting in thirty-six years—ended without much fanfare. As was expected, Kim Jong-un officially assumed the title of chairman of the WPK and consolidated his control over the Hermit Kingdom. After celebrating his country’s nuclear accomplishments, Kim claimed that North Korea is a responsible nuclear state and “will not use nuclear weapons first unless aggressive hostile forces use nuclear weapons to invade on our sovereignty.” Given Pyongyang’s history of issuing nuclear threats—including a recent propaganda video depicting a nuclear strike on Washington—and brazen weapon tests, regional actors are wary of taking Kim’s statement at face value. The young leader also announced a vague five-year plan to develop his country’s moribund economy in hopes that “his people will never have to tighten their belt again.” Pyongyang’s insistence on building up its nuclear arsenal, however, is part of downward spiral toward isolation. The regime’s efforts to establish legitimacy through its nuclear weapons program has brought forth rounds of economic sanctions and further estranged North Korea from the global economy.

4. Bangladesh opposition leader executed. Motiur Rahman Nizami, leader of the biggest Islamic party in Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami, was executed on Wednesday. Jamaat-e-Islami opposed Bangladesh’s separation from Pakistan, and was for a time banned from Bangladeshi politics. He was convicted of carrying out acts of genocide, including murder and rape, during Bangladesh’s war for independence in 1971, and for establishing a militia that engaged in torture and assisted Pakistani forces in killing independence supporters. Extra police were deployed in Dhaka after the hanging to handle potential riots. Nizami is the fifth opposition leader executed based on verdicts of Bangladesh’s controversial war crimes tribunal. Many international bodies have critiqued the trials as unfair and not presenting the accused with sufficient opportunities for defense. The most recent execution has strained some of Bangladesh’s diplomatic ties. Turkey called its ambassador home for consultations and Pakistan described the hanging as “unfortunate” and summoned the Bangladeshi ambassador. The legacies of the bloody civil war are still far from resolved, and the execution may also revive internal debates in Bangladesh.

5. Climate change swallows five Pacific islands. A study released this week in Environmental Research Letters has demonstrated the devastating impact that climate change will have on low-lying islands across the Pacific region in the coming years. Using time series aerial and satellite imaging from 1947 through 2014 over thirty-three vegetated reef Solomon Islands, Australian researchers made the unfortunate discovery that five islands were completely submerged by rising sea levels driven by anthropogenic climate change. An additional six islands have lost over 20 percent of their inhabitable surface area, forcing families to abandon their communities, relocate to higher ground, and potentially stir conflict over traditional property rights. The greatest concern surrounds Taro Island, which “may become the first provincial capital on the planet that people desert due to climate change,” and will force the relocation and reconfiguration of entire health, security, infrastructure, and education systems.

Bonus: Queen calls Chinese officials “very rude.” The “golden era” in UK-China relations lost some glimmer this week after a conversation was caught on video between Queen Elizabeth and Lucy D’Orsi, who directed security during Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United Kingdom last fall. The Queen remarked that the Chinese were “very rude to the ambassador” when they walked out of a meeting, and noted what “bad luck” it was to be in charge of the visit’s security. This isn’t the first royal China gaffe: in a leaked diary describing the Hong Kong handover ceremony in 1997, Prince Charles described Chinese leaders as a “group of appalling old wax works.”  Most news of the Queen’s remarks was censored in China, but the Global Times later ran an editorial calling the Western media “full of reckless ‘gossip fiends’ who bare their fangs and brandish their claws and are very narcissistic, retaining the bad manners of ‘barbarians.’”  It seems that all sides could stand to brush up on their manners.