Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, and Gabriella Meltzer look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Duterte ahead in Philippine pre-election polls. Leading candidate Rodrigo Duterte is currently the mayor of Davao city on the southern island of Mindanao, where he is considered to have effectively cracked down on crime and improved the local economy. Duterte has pledged to do the same for the nation if elected and and to act decisively as president. He leads in current opinion polls with roughly 32 percent of the vote, and is trailed by Senator Grace Poe with 25 percent, and Interior Minister Mar Roxas with 22 percent. In the vice-presidential race, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the nation’s previous dictator, leads in polls. Duterte has stirred up considerable controversy during the campaign, however, earning him comparisons to Donald Trump. The Economist magazine called Duterte’s candidacy “downright alarming.” Among his questionable remarks were a joke about the rape of an Australian missionary (for which he subsequently apologized), a proposal to jet-ski to territory reclaimed by China in the Spratly Islands and plant a Philippine flag, and a threat to declare a “revolutionary government.” Duterte has also proposed bilateral negotiations with China over joint resource exploration. The Philippines’ over fifty four million registered voters head out to the polls on Monday, May 9.
2. Chinese agriculture authorities meddle as pork production plummets. Pork prices in China have climbed 35 percent year-on-year, responding to a 5.9 percent decline in production. Local governments, hoping to ease the burden on Chinese consumers—the country consumes more than half of the world’s pork—have released stocks of subsidized pork. It’s not likely to have much effect: they’re only adding 3,050 metric tons of pork over the course of two months to a market that consumes fifty seven million metric tons annually. That may be a good thing, though. Like so much instability in the Chinese economy, the rise in pork prices can be partially attributed to regulators tinkering. Analysts have pointed to the shutdown of many small pig farmers by authorities as a contributing factor in the production decline. There’s hope for Chinese bacon lovers, though. Chinese regulators are taking baby steps towards liberalizing grain markets, and feed prices are dropping in response, with corn down 19 percent from this time last year.
3. Fight against tobacco takes center stage in India. This week, India’s Supreme Court ordered tobacco companies in India to comply with regulations to cover 85 percent of cigarette packages with pictorial and text health warnings, making India one of the world’s strictest countries on label regulations. With more than one million smoking-related deaths in India each year, the ruling was welcomed by India’s public health advocates. ITC Limited, India’s top cigarette company, shut down manufacturing on May 4 until “the company is in a position to comply with the interim requirements.” Not everyone has welcomed the move, however. Despite the health warnings, India’s tobacco industry is valued at $11 billion and employs millions of workers. Moreover, legal cigarettes only make up 11 percent of tobacco consumption in India. Much of the tobacco smoked in India comes from a largely unregulated market in the form of “bidis,” crushed and dried tobacco rolled in tendu leaves. Bidi production employs five million people in India, mostly women. Farmers employed by big tobacco, makers of bidis, and the Tobacco Institute of India have all voiced their disapproval of the regulations. Others have pointed to the need for a comprehensive tax policy to regulate the sales of cigarettes and bidis, arguing that tax increases are a better deterrent against smoking.
4. Domestic abuse alive and well in China. Two months ago, Li Hongxia, a twenty-four year old woman from Henan province, was strangled to death by her husband in her hospital bed while recovering from a post-miscarriage surgery. Li’s parents have refused to bury the mangled body in an effort to raise awareness about a silent epidemic that impacts at least one out of every four Chinese women, according to estimates from the state-affiliated All-China Women’s Federation. Since coming to power in 2012, Xi Jinping’s administration has made a concerted effort to prioritize domestic violence in its social policy agenda and characterize it as a unified, legal issue to address in courts, rather than simply a familial, private phenomenon. China’s first official anti-domestic violence legislation came into effect on March 1 (two days prior to Li’s murder). Despite these advances, anti-discrimination groups such as Yirenping argue that the law is still “far from enough” to curb the pervasive culture of domestic violence, as it fails to address sexual violence, as well as domestic violence between same-sex couples.
5. Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia commit to joint patrols. The three nations announced plans for joint patrols in the Sulu Sea at a trilateral meeting in Yogyakarta, Indonesia this Thursday. They also plan to establish domestic crisis centers and a coordination hotline. The decision comes after multiple recent incidents of piracy and kidnapping. Over the past two months, four sailors from Malaysia and fourteen from Indonesia were taken from ships; many believe the abductions were the work of Abu Sayyaf, a militant group operating from the southern Philippines. Ten Indonesians kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf in March were recently released, but the Indonesian security minister expressed concerns that continued piracy would revive an image of lawlessness for the sea routes in question and affect shipping traffic. Details have not been finalized, but one model the new trilateral effort could follow is that of patrols in the Malacca Straits conducted by Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Thailand, which include both marine and aerial surveillance.
Bonus: PLA enters the rap scene. In the latest in a series of musical forays by the Chinese government, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) released a recruitment video this week. The video, titled “Battle Declaration,” includes patriotic lyrics chanted as images of China’s newest military hardware and of soldiers in action flash by. Lyrics include “kill, kill, kill" and “responsibilities are always upon a soldier’s shoulders / passion always in his chest / war can break out any time / are you ready for it?”. While the PLA does not actively need to recruit more soldiers (in fact 300,000 troops are being cut), it does need to boost morale, especially as the military comes under closer scrutiny in the anti-corruption campaign. The video’s mixed reception among Chinese netizens suggests additional approaches may still be required.