Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, Ariella Rotenberg, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Taiwanese plane crashes into river, resulting in at least thirty-five deaths. TransAsia GE235 lost engine power shortly after takeoff from Taipei’s Songshan Airport on Wednesday. The twin-propeller plane was carrying fifty-eight passenger and crew; eight are still unaccounted for. Preliminary reports suggest that the pilots shut down the wrong engine after the other stalled; the pilots, both of whom were killed, have been widely praised for avoiding buildings in Taipei’s urban center. Harrowing imagery from a car dashcam shows the plane losing altitude and clipping a bridge before crashing into the Keelung River. The accident is the second in seven months for TransAsia Airways.
2. Japanese Diet adopts anti-terrorism bill. On Thursday Japan’s Lower House passed a resolution denouncing terrorism as well as encouraging the Japanese government to step up humanitarian aid to countries in the Middle East and Africa; the Upper House passed the bill on Friday. The bill was prepared by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner Komeito; concerns voiced by opposition parties resulted in a modified resolution with toned-down language. The resolution follows the recent beheading of two Japanese hostages by ISIS: Haruna Yukawa on January 24 and Kenji Goto on January 30. On January 20, ISIS had asked Japan for a $200 million ransom—the same amount Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had offered in non-military assistance for countries working to counter the ISIS threat—which Japan refused to pay. The resolution comes at a time of domestic debate in Japan over the international role of its military; Prime Minister Abe is seeking a change in the pacifist constitution that would widen the legal options for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.
3. Indonesian President embarks on his first bilateral visit abroad. Joko "Jokowi" Widodo arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday to hold meetings with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on issues of maritime boundaries and the treatment of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia, along with economic and security issues. His visit coincided with the release of a controversial vacuum cleaner ad in Malaysia telling its audiences to “fire your Indonesian maid now.” The treatment of Indonesian domestic helpers has been a frequent area of contention between the two countries; the vacuum ad has stirred tension just in time for Jokowi’s official visit to deepen bilateral ties. He will also travel to Brunei and the Philippines to complete his five-day introductory visit to ASEAN member countries.
4. China cuts reserve rate to promote growth. For the first time in over two years, China’s central bank cut reserve requirements. The move dials back the amount of cash banks must hold from lending, freeing up more money for banks to lend and hopefully stimulating the Chinese economy. The Chinese economy is facing a number of pressures, both internal—such as high local government debt and a slowdown in real estate investment—and external—including falling global commodity prices and easing measures in other countries. According to an official survey, China’s manufacturing sector shrank in January of this year, the first time it has done so since September 2012. In 2014, China missed its targeted growth rate (7.5 percent), posting 7.4 percent for the year, the lowest in over two decades.
5. South Korean soldier gets the death penalty for killing fellow troops. A military court has sentenced to death a twenty-three-year old sergeant, surnamed Lim, for killing five unarmed colleagues in South Korea barracks, including a superior officer. He was also found guilty of defecting from his unit with weapons. No executions have been carried out in South Korea since 1997, so the ruling is more likely to result in life in prison without parole. The soldier’s defense lawyer said that he would appeal the case to a higher military court, arguing that his client was the victim of bullying and suffered from paranoia. The incident was the worst killing spree since 2005, when a soldier killed eight people and injured two. In South Korea, all males are conscripted for two years of military duty, and incidents of bullying, suicide, and mental health problems are not infrequent.
Bonus: Argentina’s president mocks Chinese accent. During a visit to Beijing centering on much needed bilateral economic and infrastructure agreements, Argentine President Christina Fernández de Kirchner caused a furor by mimicking a Chinese accent on Twitter, swapping L’s for R’s in the Spanish words “petróleo and arroz” (petroleum and rice). President Kirchner followed up with a half-apology, even sending a final tweet from Beijing with “goodbye” in Chinese.