Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, Ariella Rotenberg, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Liu Tienan sentenced to life in prison. Liu Tienan, former deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission and former head of the National Energy Administration, was convicted of bribery and sentenced to life in prison. He was one of the first officials to be singled out by President Xi Jinping’s anticorruption campaign and is among the highest-ranking officials to be imprisoned. Liu admitted to accepting bribes valued at 35 million yuan (approximately US$5.7 million) from 2002 to 2012. During his trial in September, Liu pleaded guilty and was quoted as stating, “having done so much damage to the country and the party, I have no defense.”
2. Modi and Putin meet, sign twenty pacts. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi at an annual bilateral summit to discuss expansion of ties in a range of crucial sectors. At this year’s summit—which has been taking place since 2000 in alternating capitals—the two sides inked a total of twenty agreements. Among these deals, the two sides agreed to establish a joint investment fund of US$1 billion for Indian infrastructure and hydroelectric projects. Moscow also offered to help India set up ten more nuclear reactors, jointly manufacture light-utility helicopters, increase oil and gas supply, and acquire US$2.1 billion in diamond sales.
3. Japan secrecy law takes effect amid protests. The strict state-secrets law, which passed a year ago and took effect this past week, mandates prison terms of up to ten years for civil servants who leak state secrets, while journalists or others who encourage such leaks could face up to five years in prison. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets to protest the law, which critics fear will help conceal government misdeeds and limit press freedom. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claims that the law is necessary to convince allies (especially the United States) to share intelligence, and he has stated that, “If the law prevents films from being made, or weakens freedom of the press, I’ll resign.”
4. Vietnamese brides missing in rural China. More than one hundred Vietnamese brides have vanished in Hebei province after marrying Chinese bachelors. The women disappeared in late November, along with a Vietnamese matchmaker who had introduced the brides to local Chinese men in exchange for 105,000 yuan (US$17,000) per introduction. As police have begun to investigate the mass disappearance, there is speculation that an “organized ring” helped the brides flee. For many men, a gender imbalance in favor of women and the material expectations of Chinese brides—men are expected to provide a house, car, appliances, and a steady income—mean that paying for a bride from Vietnam or elsewhere can be a cheaper option for Chinese bachelors. Such transactions further perpetuate regional human trafficking problems.
5. Uber encounters speed bumps across Asia. Fast-growing ride sharing app Uber and other app-based taxi services have been temporarily banned in New Delhi after a twenty-seven-year-old female passenger alleged she was raped by one of its drivers in New Delhi. The company does not conduct its own background checks in India, instead relying on the state’s less scrupulous system; for example, in this case the accused driver had been arrested for rape (though not convicted) and other criminal activities in the past. The company had previously encountered problems in India when the country’s central bank reprimanded it for violating the country’s credit card regulations. Uber’s problems in Asia aren’t limited to India: Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore are examining the service’s legality under current regulations, and Thailand’s transportation minister said that the government would ask Uber to cease its operations because of regulatory concerns. All is not lost, however; Chinese internet giant Baidu is set to invest up to $600 million to establish the firm in China.
BONUS: Singapore’s airport will sport world’s largest indoor waterfall. Singapore’s Jewel Changi Airport, rated the world’s best airport by many, is building the world’s largest indoor waterfall in a new terminal to open in 2018. The terminal will have one of the largest indoor collections of plants in Singapore and a five-story garden filled with local trees and plants as well as a 130-foot “Rain Vortex.” See pictures here.