Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Gabriella Meltzer, David O’Connor, Gabriel Walker, and James West look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. In western Myanmar, a lockdown by security forces. Reports that thirty people have been killed by official Myanmar security forces in reprisal for the October 9 border post assaults that left nine police officers dead have increased fears of mounting violence in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh, has long been troubled by unrest, and was the site of conflict between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012 that left hundreds dead. These killings have provoked accusations from Rohingya activists of an official security force campaign targeting Rohingya civilians. The Rohingya are denied citizenship by the Myanmar government, which views the group as Bangladeshi migrants, and suffer human rights violations such as denial of health care and education, forced labor, and sexual violence due to their outcast status. Neither version of the killings has been independently verified; however, an advocacy group recently stated that it had interviewed witnesses who described what seemed to be extrajudicial killings by military forces. The Myanmar government has attributed the October 9 attacks to an organized Muslim militant group, though no solid evidence has been provided and the government has since backtracked somewhat from the charge.
2. Hospital blaze in India kills over twenty. A fire at the private SUM Hospital and Medical College in the eastern city of Bhubaneswar killed twenty-two and critically injured forty people on Monday evening. The fire, which broke out in the hospital’s intensive care unit, was reportedly caused by a short-circuit in the central air conditioning unit that spread to the ICU and dialysis unit. The over twenty victims likely perished from inhaling carbon monoxide. Following the fire, the National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the state government of Odisha, stating that “the callous attitude and lapses of the authorities, if any, amounted to violation of right to life of the patients.” This is demonstrated by the fact that recommended changes based on a 2013 fire safety audit were not implemented. In addition, the hospital is facing allegations that during the evacuation of roughly 500 patients, those in critical condition were taken off life support, leading to their deaths. Manoj Ranjan Nayak, the owner of SUM Hospital and trustee of its managing Shiksha O’Anusandhan Charitable Trust, was arrested along with four other officials. This incident is only one of many similar in India, which has poor public safety regulations. Prime Minister Modi said on Twitter that he was “deeply anguished” by the loss of life.
3. Two Americans killed by Afghan service member. On Wednesday, a gunman opened fire on several Americans at a military base near Kabul, killing a U.S. service member and civilian contractor while wounding three others. The gunman, who was killed in the ensuing firefight, was reportedly wearing an Afghan military uniform—if confirmed as an insider attack, or a so-called “green-on-blue” incident, it would mark the first such attack on American service personnel in more than a year. The attack is the latest event in a series of concerning news from Afghanistan: the Taliban once again threaten Kunduz in the north, the city they briefly seized in late September 2015; more than one hundred Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) personnel were killed earlier this month in an ambush near Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in the south that has been nearly completely surround by Taliban forces; and the ANDSF continue to suffer near-record-high casualties as the Taliban continue multiple operations in provinces across the country.
4. Australia doubles down on blocking Chinese bids. Over the past two months, Australia has blocked two high-profile investment attempts by Chinese companies in the country: one $7.6 billion bid by State Grid Corp. of China to purchase a majority stake in Ausgrid, a major electricity distributor, and another $277 million bid in part by Shanghai Cred Real Estate Stock Co. to purchase S. Kidman & Co., Australia’s largest cattle farm that covers over 1 percent of the continent. The bids were nominally vetoed because of “national interest” and “security concerns,” but Beijing pushed back, urging for Australia’s openness, transparency, and nondiscrimination. Opinions toward Chinese investment within Australia have been mixed, with some advocating for more leniency in foreign investment and others for greater transparency on the investor’s part to allay local concerns. Former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans stressed the importance of taking national security concerns seriously, but also stated that the Australian government must “come up with some clear ground rules soon” for foreign infrastructure investments, or “a great deal of damage will be done,” likely to international ties.
5. China cracks down on Crown Resorts. Eighteen of the Australian casino company’s employees were detained last week in connection with efforts to stop the promotion of gambling in China, where it is a crime outside of Macau and Hong Kong. Among those arrested is Crown’s vice president of VIP international affairs, who is tasked with attracting high-level clients to the company’s Australian casinos, where a majority of the top players are now from mainland China. The fallout of the arrests is not limited to Crown, but is expected to have wider consequences for the casino industry, spelling trouble for Macau’s already beleaguered economy.
Bonus: A hot dog by any other name… Calls by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia for the U.S. chain Auntie Anne’s to change the name of a snack known as the “pretzel dog” sparked a brouhaha in Malaysia this week. The head of the department suggested that the items sold at Malaysian outlets should be renamed “pretzel sausages” to receive halal certification, since dogs are deemed unclean. This isn’t the first time such a change has been proposed. For example, at some restaurants, root beer is labelled as “RB” to avoid confusion with an alcoholic beverage. Many Malaysians criticized the recent decision as making them look naïve or unsophisticated, but as halal food becomes a bigger market worldwide, this may not be the last we hear of these debates.