Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.
1. India’s embrace of coal complicates ambitious renewable energy targets. India brings a unique position to the climate negotiations underway in Paris as a huge developing country with grand economic plans that is also disproportionately facing the consequences of climate change. India has led the charge for “climate justice” in which the responsibility falls on the industrialized countries for their greenhouse gas contributions; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2015 National Action Plan on Climate Change still adheres to the principle of equity, but it also recognizes the threat of climate change to its citizens and economy and the need to “enhance the ecological sustainability of India’s development path.” At the Paris conference this week, India made it clear that coal would be a necessary component of its energy strategy in order to reach its development targets, but it also pledged to generate 40 percent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources, mostly solar, by 2030. On the whole, India pledged to reduce its energy intensity by 30–35 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. India also called for international support to drive down the price of renewable energy so coal is no longer the cheapest and most readily available option. To that end, French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Modi launched the International Solar Alliance for the development and affordability of clean solar energy. Modi, who has made addressing climate change a priority, hopes to reach one hundred gigawatts of solar power by 2022. Although India is on a path to become a top greenhouse gas emitter, its per capita emissions are still only a small fraction of those of the United States.
2. South Korea bans massive planned rally. The South Korean police announced on Thursday the decision to prohibit a planned rally in Seoul this weekend that seems to be organized by the groups that engaged in violent protests last month. On November 14, more than 60,000 demonstrators engaged in protests against the government’s decision to adopt state-sponsored history textbooks for secondary students and to reform the labor market. Some protestors, including Han Sang-gyun, the president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, turned to violence using metal pipes and hardened bamboo sticks, which caused the police to fire water cannons. As a result, fifty-one people were arrested and questioned on various charges including illegal protest, assaulting police officers, and destroying public equipment. In addition to banning the protest, another controversy is whether the South Korean government would ban protestors from hiding their faces. President Park Geun-hye reportedly criticized those who covered their faces during protests, which is the style of extremists of the Islamic State, stating that “we should ban demonstrators from wearing masks in the future.” The potential prohibition on the use of face masks during a protest, however, goes against the 2008 Constitutional Court’s decision that it is unconstitutional to do so.
3. IMF includes RMB in SDR basket. In a “milestone decision” announced on Monday, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) voted to include the Chinese renminbi (RMB) in its basket of Special Drawing Right (SDR) currencies. The decision was based on two criteria—that China’s exports played a central role in the global economy, and that the RMB be “freely usable”—that China met within the last five years. Since the RMB was not included during the last round of voting in 2009, the verdict signals China’s rising economic importance and is a major victory for the country’s economic reformers. Although the new SDR basket distribution will not come into effect until October 1, 2016, some say that the distinction means that the RMB will face “immediate tests” and could depreciate significantly over the next year, challenging Chinese leaders to stick to market reforms. Others have pointed out that the largely political decision will actually boost the dollar and may actually discourage the rise of the RMB on the world stage.
4. Japan-Russia islands dispute drags on. On December 1, Agence France-Presse reported that Russia has begun the construction of two modern military facilities on Iturup and Kunashir, two of the four disputed islands controlled by Moscow, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and Southern Kuril Islands in Russia. Over the last few years, Moscow has been making increasingly stronger claims to the islands. In November 2010, then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian or Soviet leader to visit the islands, angering the Japanese. He visited the islands again as prime minister in July 2012 and in August of this year. At the same time, Japan, particularly under its current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has become increasingly willing to resolve the Northern Territories/Southern Kuril Islands dispute and to sign a peace treaty with Russia. The two sides, however, are unlikely to resolve the dispute anytime soon. Since the 1950s, Russia has shown inclinations toward claiming only two of the disputed islands (with the smaller Shikotan and Habomai going to Tokyo), but Japan is insistent on the return of all four. The crisis in Ukraine adds additional complications with regard to Abe’s outreach to Moscow because of Japan’s close alliance with the United States.
5. North Korea unsuccessfully tests ballistic missile. On Saturday, North Korea conducted a rare test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. The test was conducted off the port city of Wonsan where the missile was launched allegedly from a submarine. According to South Korean intelligence sources, Kim Jong-un was likely present for the failed launch. Strategists in the United States believe this test, in addition to one in May, are part of North Korea’s work to develop a secure deterrent. This latest launch was made around 2:30 p.m. local time; the debris in the water indicated its failure to launch properly. Both the launch in May as well as last week’s are in violation of United Nations sanctions.
Bonus: Indonesia runs on WhatsApp. Indonesia’s trade minister, Thomas Lembong, recently announced at a Tech in Asia conference that “I run my ministry on WhatsApp.” The messaging platform is very popular in Indonesia and in 2014 was the third most downloaded messaging app in the nation with approximately 52 percent of mobile internet users on it. Lembong is not the only government official reliant on WhatsApp. In August, Indonesia’s Coordinating Economic Minister Sofyan Djalil said he would encourage all ministries within his jurisdiction to establish WhatsApp groups to facilitate faster communication and reduce the need for in-person meetings. Members of the private sector also depend on WhatsApp for business, and one start-up founder told the Financial Times, “my primary mode of running the company is through WhatsApp.” Particularly valued by users are the fact that the app is accessible when on free Wi-Fi networks and the end-to-end encryption of messages. The latter service, however, has recently raised some concerns among terrorism experts in Indonesia as the app is used as a means of recruitment and communication by many Indonesians who have joined ISIS in Syria. In some instances, Indonesian ISIS members and jailed extremists have even used WhatsApp to conduct marriages.