Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Samir Kumar, Gabriella Meltzer, David O’Connor, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. Women activists urge Ban Ki-moon to formally end Korean War. Over 100 women activists from thirty-eight countries are putting pressure on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to formally end the Korean War prior to the end of his tenure on December 31, 2016. A formal letter was submitted by the nonprofit WomenCrossDMZ, whose mission is to end the Korean War on the grounds that the “unresolved conflict gives all governments in the region justification to further militarize and prepare for war, depriving funds for schools, hospitals, and the welfare of the people and the environment.” The Korean War ended with an armistice signed by U.S., North Korean, and Chinese leaders in July 1953. However, the diplomats never reconvened to sign a subsequent peace treaty. The group is urging Ban Ki-moon to work closely with the president of the UN Security Council to have a peace treaty signed by the end of 2018. These calls to action come at a time of increasing instability in the Korean Peninsula, as the North Korean government has now conducted five nuclear tests and is subject to five sanctions resolutions.
2. Chinese executives accused of helping North Korea evade sanctions. Four executives at a major trading company in the border city of Dandong have been accused of violating U.S. sanctions on North Korea meant to impede the country’s development of nuclear weapons. Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Corporation, which in one year handled more than 20 percent of trade between North Korea and China, was accused by a think tank last week of exporting materials that can be used in the production of nuclear weapons to the rogue state. The company’s owner, Ma Xiaohong, is alleged to have conspired with a North Korean bank to disguise the activity by creating shell corporations in Hong Kong and overseas tax shelters, some of which were exposed in the Panama Papers. Last week, Chinese police in the northeastern province of Liaoning announced an investigation into the same company, stating that it was suspected of engaging in “serious economic crimes.”
3. Efforts to fight corruption in Afghanistan stumble. A new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) highlighted the continuing corruption challenges the nation faces. In particular, noncompliance has hampered an effort to monitor the finances of eighty-three high officials in the Afghan government though the High Office of Oversight. Although the programs under the High Office of Oversight were budgeted for $26.6 million in USAID assistance, the office struggled to enforce disclosure requirements. Some officials in the previous administration, led by former President Hamid Karzai, never declared their assets when they took or left office, and even Karzai himself did not include full details on assets in German bank accounts. Only Ashraf Ghani, the current president, has entirely followed the rules on asset disclosure. The office has also been criticized for being too closely tied to the government since its leaders are chosen through presidential appointment. The SIGAR report also highlighted the importance of understanding how networks of corruption operate and better integrating security and anti-graft priorities.
4. Singapore urged to step up policing of financial crime. A recent report by the Paris-based global corruption watchdog Financial Action Task Force found Singapore’s existing regulations against money laundering satisfactory for small-scale crimes but vulnerable to sophisticated actors. The review came in light of illicit funding flows from Malaysia’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a Malaysian development bank: earlier this year, it was revealed that about $4 billion had been routed from 1MDB to institutions in Singapore, Switzerland, and other countries. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was found to have $681 million in his personal account paid from 1MDB. Singapore’s domestic regulator admitted that its lapses had detracted from its financial reputation, but had not indicated specific steps that would follow. The report noted, ominously, that Singapore was not only vulnerable to money launderers but also to terrorism financiers.
5. South China Sea dispute reveals growing rift in Singapore-Beijing relations. Singapore and China have had a relatively close relationship over the past few decades, with a particularly positive economic relationship: China remains Singapore’s second-biggest export market, and Singapore is one of China’s principal foreign investors. However, the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague’s rejection of Chinese claims in the South China Sea have resulted in increasingly fraught diplomatic relations between the two states. Singapore was not a claimant in the recent dispute over maritime territory, but recent remarks relating to the ruling seem to have perturbed China and raised concerns in Beijing over how far the diplomatic relationship between Singapore and China can progress. The latest salvo in this diplomatic scuffle involves Singapore’s ambassador to China, Stanley Loh, and the hawkish Chinese Global Times. Mr. Loh recently charged the Global Times with “false and unfounded” reporting in response to a recent article lambasting Singapore for pursuing the inclusion of the disputed waters issue in a joint statement following last week’s Non-Aligned Movement summit in Venezuela. Mr. Loh’s statement prompted a public response from both the Global Times and China’s foreign affairs ministry, revealing a growing rift the relationship between the two states.
Bonus: Something’s fishy at Tokyo’s new Tsukiji market. Plans to relocate the famous Tsukiji wholesale fish, fruit, and vegetable market, a well-known tourist landmark and stalwart Tokyo institution since 1935, ground to a halt this week because of environmental health concerns. In 2001, Tokyo’s governor initiated plans to move the market to a nearby location and build a new facility that could better handle the nearly two thousand tons of fish that the market processes daily. The facility was scheduled to open this November, but trace amounts of arsenic and benzene were recently found in underground water samples at the new site, likely remnants of the Tokyo Gas plant that operated there for over thirty years. The metropolitan government has already spent over $800 million on soil decontamination during construction, but these new pollutants—which could potentially leach toxic gases into the new buildings—accumulated in locations that had not been properly covered by clean soil as the project planners intended. An environmental assessment of the site will likely take until February 2017, so the old Tsukiji market is here to stay at least for now.