Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Sri Lanka reeling from massive flooding and mudslides. Sri Lanka is currently experiencing its heaviest rains in twenty-five years, leading to flooding and landslides that have devastated twenty-one out of the country’s twenty-five districts. The death toll as of today has reached nearly seventy people, over 300,000 have been displaced from their homes, and 220 families are still reported missing beneath the mud, which in some places reaches up to thirty feet. The Sri Lankan army is working tirelessly to relocate communities to roughly 600 temporary shelters across the country housed in schools and temples, as well as to provide food and clean water. More rains are expected to come with the approach of the cyclical monsoon season from May through September in the south, followed by one in the north from December through February. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera commented that there will be an urgent, long-term need for water purification tablets, water pumps, and drinking water following the disaster.
2. Tsai Ing-wen assumes presidency of the Republic of China. On Friday, Tsai, a former law professor who is the leader of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was inaugurated as the first woman and second DPP member to serve as president of the island. In her inauguration address (transcript, recording), Tsai made it clear that addressing economic challenges—like youth unemployment and a risk of falling behind in regional integration—would be the first task of her presidency. She also advocated recalibrating cross-Strait relations with a recognition that both Taiwan and mainland China are in very different positions than they were twenty-five years ago. It takes two to tango, though, and it’s not clear Beijing is on board. Tsai and the DPP-controlled legislature have a difficult task ahead, and failure to deliver on campaign promises may lead to disillusionment, particularly among youth. Despite this, Tsai’s election—concurrent with the first non-Kuomintang (Taiwan’s other major party) majority in the legislature—is a reminder that Taiwanese democracy has matured and consolidated since the transition from Kuomintang dictatorship in the late 1980s.
3. Trafficking of Vietnamese women expands across Asia. The patterns of movement for women and girls trafficked from Vietnam to other parts of Asia are shifting. According to the Pacific Links Foundation, which works on counter-trafficking in the Asia-Pacific region, the majority of victims end up in China as brides, factory laborers, or prostitutes. Other destinations, including Cambodia and Malaysia, have also become increasingly common. Chinese demand for Vietnamese brides is largely attributed to skewed gender ratios that persist as a result of the one-child policy and historical preferences for sons. New concerns have also emerged that greater economic integration between ASEAN nations will lead not only to money and goods circulating more freely, but also to traffickers operating more easily. Trafficking patterns within Vietnam itself are also changing; historically many women and girls were taken from northern provinces near the Chinese border, but now trafficking appears to be originating in sites across the country. The use of violence and drugging by abduction networks has also increased.
4. Public distrust mounts as Tokyo governor’s scandals grow. Controversies continued this week surrounding the Tokyo Metropolitan Governor Yoichi Masuzoe’s alleged use of public funds for personal items—ranging from using an official vehicle almost every weekend for family trips to purchasing oil paintings online. The manner in which Masuzoe dealt with these allegations only exacerbated the situation: he first admitted the use of 450,000 yen ($4,000) for hotel stays and use of high-end restaurants last week, and then further admitted to using political funds for paintings and other “research materials” to the tune of more than 9 million yen ($82,000) this week. Masuzoe has also spent 213 million yen ($1.9 million) on overseas trips in his two years in office, more than double that spent by one of his predecessors, Shintaro Ishihara. Senior officials from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which backed Masuzoe in the 2014 gubernatorial election, expressed criticism as they prepare for the upcoming national election this summer. Despite a total of 4,600 angry telephone calls and emails, including some demanding his resignation, Masuzoe insists on staying in office and regaining “trust through my work.” Masuzoe announced today that his expense reports will henceforth be scrutinized by third-party lawyers. Yet given the fact that Masuzoe’s predecessor, Naoki Inose, quickly resigned over allegations of election fundraising irregularities, it will likely take more than third-party involvement to regain public trust if Masuzoe wishes to stay in office.
5. North Korea losing faith in its sole ally. Recent interviews of North Koreans hint that the Hermit Kingdom may be increasingly paranoid about China, the North’s most important patron. Forged on the fronts of the Korean War, the relationship between North Korea and China has traditionally been referred to as close as “lips and teeth.” But relations have deteriorated. Pyongyang’s brazen behavior—such as the nuclear test in January and repeated missile launches—have reduced Beijing’s tolerance, evidenced by China’s support for the adoption of the strongest-ever sanctions against North Korea in UN Security Council Resolution 2270. President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented decision to visit South Korea twice before having first visited North Korea exemplifies Xi’s displeasure toward Kim Jong-un. And the feeling seems mutual. Kim is reportedly wary that China will “trade away [North Korea’s] interests” for other strategic benefits. Though strained ties between the two countries is almost certainly bad news for North Korea, which depends heavily on China for food and fuel, it offers a unique window of opportunity for further U.S.-China cooperation on addressing the North Korean issue.
Bonus: Red is the color of love. Some traditional Chinese marriage practices date back thousands of years—and others are just being invented. This week, groom Li Yunpeng and bride Chen Xuanchi commemorated their wedding night by hand-copying the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) constitution. Their hard work was about more than romance, however: it was a studious effort to follow the nationwide “Copy the CPC Constitution for 100 days” campaign that is encouraging party members to transcribe the more than 15,000-character document and post pictures of their results online. A broad national education campaign focusing on the study of the CPC constitution launched in February targets party members with “wavering confidence in communism and socialism with Chinese characteristics” and “those who advocate Western values, violate Party rules, work inefficiently or behave unethically.” Though it is unclear whether Li and Chen actually finished copying the document, it is unlikely anyone will doubt the couple’s revolutionary fervor and work ethic after seeing their wedding photos. And luckily they should still have the first ninety-nine days of their married life to finish the grueling task.