Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Lincoln Davidson, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Delhi battles major chikungunya outbreak. Over 1,000 people have fallen ill and at least twelve have died due to a major outbreak of chikungunya in Delhi. Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus similar to Zika and dengue, is typically not fatal, but can cause debilitating joint pain along with fever, fatigue, and nausea. Health minister J. P. Nadda has assured the Indian public that chikungunya did not cause the fatalities, but rather exacerbated deadly illnesses that were already ailing the elderly. Of greater concern is the toll chikungunya is taking on public services, as public-sector projects have missed major deadlines due to workers falling ill and migrant laborers returning to their villages. The greater incidence of the disease has been attributed to an unusually intense monsoon season, which, combined with numerous construction projects, has created standing pools of water for mosquitoes to breed. There is no vaccine for chikungunya, and Delhi’s government-operated health facility is receiving up to 1,000 people in its fever clinic on a daily basis.
2. Forty-five legislators expelled from China’s top legislature. Forty-five deputies from Liaoning province to the National People’s Congress (NPC)—nearly half of their province’s overall delegation—were expelled this week from the country’s top legislative body. The legislators’ election was invalidated after it was found that they had engaged in bribery and vote-buying during the 2013 election. They were removed by a special session of the NPC Standing Committee, and their ejection will have both national and provincial ramifications. Many of the legislators were members of the Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress, from which they were also removed. This left the group without enough members to function and an interim panel was put in place instead. Speculation swirled over why the legislators were expelled at this point in time; among the popular theories were that the move was intended to discourage electoral fraud going forward, or that it was simply a further step in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s broader anticorruption campaign.
3. Duterte’s blunt remarks unnerve Asian U.S. allies. Recent anti-American remarks from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signal a possible future break in the longstanding U.S.-Philippines relationship and a potential setback in a U.S. “pivot to Asia.” Mr. Duterte’s antagonistic remarks toward the U.S. have generated unease among U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region due to what appears to be an abrupt about-face from the Philippines in the face of China’s growing influence in the region. Beijing’s attempt to undercut the July ruling of an international tribunal against Chinese claims in the South China Sea have been bolstered by Mr. Duterte’s comments. Overt examples of inflammatory remarks include Mr. Duterte stating that the Philippines would stop patrolling the South China Sea with the U.S. Navy to avoid being part of any “hostile act” toward China; calling for the departure of U.S. military advisers; and stating the intent to buy armaments from Russia and China. Official response from China has been ambiguous, with a Foreign Ministry spokesperson denying any information of advantageous terms for future arms deals with the Philippines.
4. Countries step up South China Sea joint drills. China and Russia conducted naval exercises off the coast of Guangdong province this week, the first time the countries have held their annual joint naval drills in the South China Sea. The exercises, known as Joint Sea, included anti-submarine warfare, island defense, and island-seizing operations. While Russia maintains a neutral stance on South China Sea territorial disputes, its official position that it is “counter-productive” for external parties to get involved in the conflict meshes well with China’s stance. Meanwhile, Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada announced while in Washington, DC, on Thursday that the country intends to increase joint training operations with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea.
5. Japanese renewables lose steam. Before the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japan derived nearly 30 percent of its total electricity from nuclear power. Now, after shuttering almost all of its nuclear plants, that number has fallen to 1 percent. Under most conditions, this gap would increase demand for alternative energy sources and potentially bolster the renewable energy sector. But renewables in Japan still face an uphill battle. In particular, low worldwide oil and gas prices have kept fossil fuel imports to Japan a viable alternative to expanding the renewables sector. Locations for large hydropower projects are limited, and the solar industry has faltered because of regulatory issues and frequent bankruptcies. And although Japan’s potential for geothermal power generation is among the largest in the world, the majority of geothermal resources are located in protected national parks. At least for the time being—barring a spike in fossil fuel prices or unexpected shift in the regulatory climate—Japan’s goal to double the share of renewables in its electricity mix by 2030 seems quite a ways away.
Bonus: Carcinogenic mooncake kerfuffle in Macau. This year’ Mid-Autumn Festival brought with it an unusual health scare: carcinogenic mooncakes. These mooncakes, which came from Hong Kong’s Hang Heung bakery and were sold in a four-star hotel in Macau, were found to contain 8.43 micrograms per kilogram of aflatoxin B1, a chemical believed to be cancerous. A sample in Hong Kong was also found to have high aflatoxin B1 levels. The amounts of aflatoxin B1 found in the mooncakes exceeded the allowed level in Macau, but not in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time food safety concerns have tainted mooncakes: in 2014, concerns emerged that gutter oil had been used in the pastries sold by Maxim’s bakery in Hong Kong. Harmful ingredients aren’t the only health concern associated with these treats, either. As a columnist from the South China Morning Post aptly observed, it’s the calories, sugar, and fat in the cakes, not their carcinogens, that should be provoking worry.