Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, Ariella Rotenberg, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Pope Francis visits Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The pope made his second trip to Asia in less than two years, a sign of his “interest and pastoral concern for the people of that vast continent,” visiting Sri Lanka and Philippines (which have Catholic populations of 6 percent and 81 percent, respectively). His first stop was Colombo, where he preached peace and reconciliation and said that Sri Lanka must heal divisions from the country’s twenty-five year civil war. After holding mass in the capital, Francis traveled to Tamil territory in the north to visit the Our Lady of Madhu shrine, a Catholic pilgrimage site. It was the first visit by a pope to the region. In the Philippines, Asia’s only predominately Christian country, the pope denounced corruption and reasserted the Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial contraception. Francis will hold three masses in the capital of Manila and in Tacloban, the province most affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
2. Kerry wraps up visits in India and Pakistan. In advance of U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to India at the end of the month, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to India over the weekend to lead the U.S. delegation for the Vibrant Gujarat Investment Summit, hosted in the home state of Indian Prime Minister Modi. This is Kerry’s second trip in the past six months to India, signifying growing commitment to expanding the U.S.-India relationship. While there, Kerry also met with the prime minister of Bhutan, making him the first U.S. cabinet member to meet with a Bhutanese government official. On Monday, Kerry traveled to Pakistan for the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue Ministerial where he emphasized, among other things, the importance of eradicating all militant groups in Pakistan. His message comes a month after militants attacked a school in Peshawar, killing close to 150 people, the majority of them children.
3. Hong Kong’s leader backpedals on democracy. Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s chief executive, addressed the legislative council for the first time since pro-democracy street protests came to an end in December 2014. Leung asserted that Hong Kong would face an economic standstill and would “denigrate into anarchy” if it was granted full-fledged democracy. Leung was heavily criticized by pro-democracy leaders, including Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Labor Party, who accused Leung of suppressing free speech.
4. Turks arrested in China after being accused of aiding terror suspects. A Chinese state-run newspaper reported on Wednesday that Shanghai police arrested ten Turkish citizens and two Chinese citizens. The twelve arrested were accused of selling Turkish passports to terror suspects in Xinjiang. The suspects, nine ethnic Uighurs, are accused of trying to use the faulty passports to leave the country illegally and travel abroad; Syria was reportedly one of their possible destinations. Meanwhile, two days prior, in China’s western province of Xinjiang, state media reported that security forces shot and killed six Uighur men after they attacked police. These deaths are added to the more than one hundred people killed in Xinjiang in recent months during clashes between Chinese security forces and Uighurs.
5. Japan approves record defense budget. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet endorsed a nearly five trillion yen ($42 billion) defense budget for the year, including plans to buy surveillance aircraft, drones, amphibious vehicles, and F-35 fighter jets to help counter China’s rising assertiveness and the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program. While the defense budget is only about 1 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product—roughly half the ratio of China and a quarter of that of the United States—military spending remains controversial in Japan. After a decade of cuts, the new budget marks the third consecutive year of increased defense spending, a sign that Japan seeks to become a stronger player in regional security.
BONUS: Hong Kong man caught entering China with ninety-four smuggled iPhones strapped to his body. Shenzhen inspectors caught the man because of his odd gait; the man had created a “mobile armor” of the smartphones taped in plastic bags around his entire body. The hidden cargo—both iPhone 6 and iPhone 5s models—are estimated to be worth over 300,000 yuan (US$49,000). The newest iPhone model sells for almost $1,000 in mainland China but can be purchased for $820 in Hong Kong.