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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. The fate of Japanese ISIS hostages still unknown. The fate of two Japanese hostages captured this past Tuesday by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) remains unclear. The terrorist organization released a video on Tuesday threatening to kill Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa in seventy-two hours unless Japan paid a ransom of $200 million; that deadline expired early Friday morning with no news of their status. ISIS captured Haruna Yakawa, the founder of a private security company, in northern Syria in August 2014. Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist, arrived in Syria in late October with the aim of establishing contact with ISIS in hopes that he could convince them to release Yukawa. Friday morning, Goto’s mother held a news conference asking the Japanese government to save her son.
2. China’s economy slows, prompting a new look at stress tests, loans, and other indicators. China’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew 7.4 percent in 2014, the lowest growth rate in twenty-four years and missing Beijing’s official target (which was 7.5 percent) for the first time since 1998. Reasons for slower economic growth include a cooling property market, deflationary pressures, and bad debt—the bad debt ratio of Chinese banks climbed to 1.6 percent at the end of the year, up from 1.16 percent in September. In response, China’s bank regulators are conducting stress tests, boosting capital requirements, and requiring banks to maintain adequate provisions for loan losses. The country’s manufacturing sector also contracted for the second consecutive month. Not everything is dreary, however; consumption and services grew by 3 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.
3. President Obama becomes the only sitting U.S. president to travel to India twice. President Barack Obama is traveling to India this weekend as the first American chief guest to participate in India’s Republic Day celebrations. Each year, a foreign leader is invited to attend as the guest of honor, and Indian President Narendra Modi’s invitation to Obama this year is particularly symbolic. The two leaders met in Washington in September last year, which resulted in a joint statement to revitalize the existing partnership and identify new areas for collaboration. Just four months later, the leaders have an opportunity to assess progress and infuse further confidence in the U.S.-India relationship, as they celebrate the day India became a republic in 1950.
4. Thailand’s Yingluck Shinawatra impeached, faces possible criminal charges. Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was removed from power in May 2014 by a military coup, was banned from Thai politics for five years by the junta’s legislative assembly by a vote of 190 to 18. The junta also announced that she would be indicted on a charge of criminal negligence for a botched rice subsidy scheme—if convicted, Yingluck could be imprisoned for up to ten years. Her brother and former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was similarly deposed by the military in 2006; he now lives in exile in Dubai and London. Detested by the Bangkok political establishment, Yingluck, like her brother, has strong support from rural provinces, in part because of subsidies for rice farmers.
5. Fighting over constitution in Nepal. Nepal plunged toward crisis this week after feuding politicians failed to meet a January 22 deadline to table a new constitution for the country. The opposition alliance, led by the Maoist faction of the Communist Party, wants the new constitution to carve Nepali provinces along ethnic lines, a provision the governing Nepali Congress Party coalition opposes. The political parties also remained at loggerheads over new electoral and judicial systems. Nepal’s political parties have been trying to reach an agreement on a new constitution since the first Constituent Assembly was elected in 2008, but they continue to miss deadlines.
Bonus: Chinese city blames bacon for pollution. Heavy industry and vehicle emissions are known contributors to pollution in China. Recently, however, Chinese officials reported that traditional methods of preserving pork have also contributed to smog problems in rural Sichuan province. Some bacon-smoking sites have been forcibly demolished, raising concern that parts of Sichuan may not have enough bacon to ring in the Chinese New Year next month.