from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of July 24, 2015

Chinese nationals, believed to be involved in illegal logging, arrive at a court in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State in the ... who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media. Picture taken July 22, 2015. (Stringer/REUTERS)

July 24, 2015

Chinese nationals, believed to be involved in illegal logging, arrive at a court in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State in the ... who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media. Picture taken July 22, 2015. (Stringer/REUTERS)
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Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Former Hu Jintao aide arrested on corruption charges. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo announced on Monday that Ling Jihua, a former high-ranking official in the Hu administration, had been expelled from the party and placed under arrest. He awaits trial on charges of giving and receiving bribes, illegally obtaining state secrets, and violating party discipline rules. State media also noted that Ling “traded power for sex” and “should bear major responsibility for his family members” using his position to personally profit—although that hasn’t spared his relatives from also coming under investigation. Ling has been the target of a corruption inquiry by the CCP’s graft watchdog since December 2014, but he first came under public scrutiny in 2012, after he tried to cover up the fact that his son had died while driving his Ferrari through the streets of Beijing with two scantily-clad women. The arrest is a “shot in the arm” to Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, which some say has slowed in recent months.

2. Myanmar sentences illegal loggers to life in prison. A court in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin state in northern Myanmar, has sentenced 153 Chinese nationals to life in prison for illegal logging. In response, the Chinese government lodged a diplomatic protest with Yangon, urging the government to “take China’s concerns seriously, take all the factors into account, and properly handle the case.” China’s demand for raw materials has fueled the illegal timber trade along Myanmar’s porous border and led to a rise in anti-Chinese sentiment in the border region. In the past, Chinese found guilty of illegal logging were repatriated rather than imprisoned. The Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times deemed the sentences too harsh and argued for bilateral consultations to find a “justified solution.”

3. Indian politician argues in favor of reparation payments from the UK. A YouTube video of a speech at the Oxford Union by Shashi Tharoor, an Indian diplomat and former Congress Party government minister, went viral this week, garnering over one million views. In the video, Tharoor argues, “India’s share of the world economy when Britain arrived on its shores was 23 percent … by the time the British left it was down to below 4 percent.” He continues by asserting that this is due to the fact that Britain de-industrialized India to fuel its own industrial revolution. Some historical research supports Tharoor’s account of the economic toll of British colonial rule. The crux of his argument, however, is not how much money should be given in the form of reparations, but that there is a moral obligation for those reparations. Tharoor’s side won the debate with 185 votes to 56. The distribution of the video sparked an enthusiastic conversation on social media for several days, particularly in India.

4. Japan calls out China in annual defense report. The Japanese government’s defense white paper emphasized the growing security threat of China. The paper pointed to China’s land reclamation activities in the South China Sea and the development of gas platforms in the East China Sea, saying that the country “continues to act in an assertive manner, including coercive attempts to change the status quo, and is poised to fulfill its unilateral demands high-handedly without compromise.” The foreign ministry also released photos of the gas platforms. Although the structures are on China’s side of the line equidistant from the two countries, Japan is concerned that some of the platforms could be siphoning gas from Japan’s sea territory. Furthermore, Japan and China agreed in 2008 to jointly develop gas fields in the East China Sea, but China has gone forward with unilateral construction. China’s foreign ministry responded to the paper asserting its activities in the East China Sea are “justified, reasonable, and legitimate,” and that the paper deliberately plays up the threat from China. The report comes as the Japanese legislature considers a bill to expand the role of the country’s military.

5. Taiwan considers legalizing gay marriageThe Taipei city government announced Thursday that it has asked judicial authorities to review the constitutionality of Taiwan’s marriage law. Its civil code states that “an agreement to marry shall be made by the male and the female parties”; city officials argue this violates constitutional provisions on freedom and equality. Should Taiwan adopt a new interpretation of the law, it would be the first government in East Asia to recognize gay marriage. In recent years, public opinion on the island has tipped in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. An online poll last year found that 68 percent of citizens support legalizing same-sex marriage, and hundreds of LGBT supporters gathered in the streets of the southern city of Kaohsiung two weeks ago to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition of the right to marry for same-sex couples. The Taipei city government also recently announced that it would allow same-sex couples to participate in the city’s mass weddings starting in October.

Bonus: Foreign salad Spartans arrested in Beijing. Nearly one-hundred foreign men dressed as Spartan warriors paraded across Beijing Wednesday promoting a salad delivery service. The startup Sweetie Salad hired the men as a publicity stunt, perhaps inspired by the success in China of other promotions featuring topless foreign men. A large crowd gathered when the semi-clothed men stopped in Beijing’s Sanlitun shopping district—which, coincidentally, made news recently after a video of a couple having sex in a changing room at a nearby Uniqlo went viral on the Chinese Internet. The Spartans were a bit too popular for their own good, however, and attracted the attention of the city’s police, resulting in the arrest of the models  and an apology by Sweetie Salad.

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