from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of February 20, 2015

Lion dancers perform for the opening of the Temple Fair, as part of Chinese New Year celebrations, at Ditan Park, also known a...will welcome the Year of the Sheep (also known as the Year of the Goat or Ram). REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY)

February 20, 2015

Lion dancers perform for the opening of the Temple Fair, as part of Chinese New Year celebrations, at Ditan Park, also known a...will welcome the Year of the Sheep (also known as the Year of the Goat or Ram). REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY)
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Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, Ariella Rotenberg, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Myanmar declares martial law in Kokang. President Thein Sein announced a state of emergency and three months of martial law in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, on the border with China, after a series of clashes between the Myanmar army and armed Kokang rebels. Under martial law, administrative and judicial power has been granted to the army’s commander in chief; the imposition of martial law is aimed at securing a ceasefire and political dialogue well in advance of general elections later this year. The conflict is a setback for Myanmar’s semi-civilian government, which took power in 2011 after nearly fifty years of military rule. Myanmar is turning to neighboring China for help even as tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing into Yunnan province from Kokang.

2. Japan emerges from recession, though not as strongly as some hoped. Japan’s economy expanded in the last quarter of 2014 after contraction in the two previous quarters, growing at an annualized rate of 2.2 percent. Though a positive sign, this was lower than economists’ expectation of 3.7 percent growth. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-growth policies—known as Abenomics—have had some successes: for example, borrowing costs are being kept low, the stock market is up, and annual exports increased in January the most since late 2013. However, it also is to blame for a sales tax hike last April that precipitated lower consumption and the two quarters of contraction, which required the Bank of Japan to expand monetary stimulus. A second sales tax hike, initially scheduled for October 2015, has been delayed.

3. Modi targets defense industry in his latest drive of the ‘Make in India’ campaign. In an effort to reduce India’s reliance on defense imports, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on foreign companies to manufacture defense equipment in India. As the world’s top importer of weaponry, Modi said on Wednesday, “this is an area where we do not want to be number one,” in his inauguration at Aero India 2015 in Bangalore. The defense industry announced $8 billion of spending for new warships, and Modi pledged to ease the process of setting up defense manufacturing joint ventures in India. Israel’s defense minister met with Modi on Thursday, welcoming greater defense cooperation; Israel is already one of India’s top arms suppliers.

4. Indonesia to execute two Australians for drug trafficking despite diplomatic pressure from Australia. In another threat to relations between Indonesia and Australia, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced that the execution of two Australian national on death row will not be delayed, despite the protestations of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. In discussing the case with reporters, Abbott reminded Jokowi of the contributions Australia made in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and asked that he repay that generosity by sparing the two Australians. Indonesian authorities arrested Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 33—members of the “Bali Nine” drug trafficking ring—in 2005 as they attempted to smuggle eighteen pounds of heroin out of Indonesia and to Australia; the penalty for drug trafficking is death. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been in contact with Indonesia’s vice president in continued efforts to broker a deal.

5. Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faces charges for botched rice subsidy scheme. Thailand’s attorney general filed charges against the former prime minister for a rice subsidy scheme in which the government bought rice from Thai farmers at above-market rates, costing the government billions of dollars. She faces a jail sentence of up to ten years for criminal negligence and will be banned for politics for five years. Supporters of the charges say that the rice subsidy scheme was a corrupt plan to buy rural votes; skeptics believe the prosecution is just a way to curb the influence of Yingluck and her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinwatra. The action comes after the military seized power in May 2014, claiming to restore order after months of protests against Yingluck’s government. Yingluck’s brother Thaksin was also ousted by a military coup in 2006; the Shinawatra family is popular among rural voters but disliked by the middle class and elite. The indictment of Yingluck by the military-led government , who was democratically elected, has led to strained ties with the United States.

Bonus: Mark Zuckerberg and Prince William tackle the Mandarin language in Chinese New Year greetings. At the start of the year of the sheep—or goat or ram, for some—Facebook’s chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, have both sent new year greetings to Chinese speakers. Zuckerberg seems keen to make China his Facebook friend, mentioning that his office will have a party to ring in the new year; Prince William’s words received an equally warm reception ahead of his bridge-building tour of China next month.

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