Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Thailand lifts martial law and puts in place a “new security order.” Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej approved a request from the country’s junta to lift martial law on Wednesday and trade it for a so-called new security order. Most experts agree this choice was a cosmetic one, not substantive, that was an attempt to improve the appearance of Thailand to the outside world while maintaining absolute power for the junta. In the place of martial law, the new security order invokes Article Forty-Four of the military-imposed interim constitution, which grants General Prayuth Chan-ocha, head of the junta, expansive powers in over the Thai government. Human Rights Watch described the change as an indication of “Thailand’s deepening descent into dictatorship.” The article effectively grants General Prayuth the power of all three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial.
2. South Korea issues settlement to Sewol Ferry students’ families. The South Korean government on Wednesday announced it would pay about US$380,000 to each family of students who died when the local tour ferry Sewol capsized nearly a year ago, on April 16, 2014. The official death toll was 295. In November, the Sewol’s captain was sentenced to thirty-six years in prison for gross negligence, after a judge acquitted him for homicide (for which prosecutors sought the death penalty). Victims’ relatives have sought an independent inquiry into the cause of and response to the sinking; several of them have shaved their heads in protest (a symbolic act common in protests in Korea) over the decision to forgo investigation for the monetary compensation. The incident has called into question not only national safety standards and practices, but also the government’s ability and choices made during the rescue operations. Civil society groups continue to lead protests throughout the country, including in Seoul’s central Gwanghwamun Square near the president’s house.
3. Cyberattack targets anti-censorship forum. Github, a coding site that also hosts tools to bypass China’s Great Firewall, experienced a large distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that started last Thursday. DDoS attacks flood a site with traffic in an attempt to take it offline. A number of security researchers have alleged that international web traffic to sites that use analytics tools from Baidu, China’s largest search engine, was hijacked and redirected toward Github’s site; some analysts have suggested that the Chinese government was behind the attack. A Baidu spokesman said the firm found no security breaches and was working find the source of the issue; meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that “it is quite odd” that whenever a website is attacked elsewhere in the world, Chinese hackers are to blame. Github provides access within China to a mirror of GreatFire.org, a website that monitors blocked websites and keywords, and the Chinese-language version of the New York Times, both of which are censored in China.
4. Vietnamese factory workers on strike over new pension law. Thousands of workers occupied the factory compound of Taiwanese-owned Pou Yuen, a supplier for Nike and Adidas, in Ho Chi Minh City this week. New pension rules slated to come into effect next year will stop many workers from being eligible for lump-sum social insurance payments when they leave a company, delaying payouts until retirement. The strikes—a rare challenge in a country where large, unsanctioned gatherings are prohibited—ended peacefully after the Vietnamese government agreed to amend the law, allowing laborers to choose when they receive retirement payouts.
5. Deadline to join AIIB passes, with forty-six founding members, including some surprises. Beijing had set March 31 as the deadline to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as a founding member; committed countries include Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Norway also applied to join, considered a surprise since in 2010 it awarded a Nobel Peace prize to a dissident Chinese writer, causing a rift in Sino-Norwegian relations. Taiwan’s announcement that it would seek to join also comes as a surprise; Beijing responded it would include Taiwan should they join “under an appropriate name.” Protests over the prospect of submitting to the name change have ignited protests in Taipei. Noticeably absent was regional economic powerhouse and U.S. ally Japan, which—along with the United States—dominates international financial institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Other strong U.S. allies in the region, including Australia and South Korea, have pledged to join. The United States has viewed the AIIB with wariness, raising questions about its transparency and governance.
Bonus: Australia triumphs over New Zealand in the cricket World Cup final. In what was considered a one-sided and anticlimactic match, Australia dominated to bring home their fifth World Cup title. New Zealand came into the match on a wave of eight successive wins, but couldn’t pull off a first World Cup victory. Despite their win, the Australian team was met with some disapproving eyes for its poor sportsmanship and how it chose to celebrate the victory.