Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. China’s ex-domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang to serve life sentence. The former Politburo Standing Committee member was convicted of abuse of power, accepting bribes, and revealing state secrets and sentenced to life in prison Thursday, just shy of a year after his arrest. While officials initially suggested Zhou’s trial would be open and transparent, it wasn’t, with Xinhua adopting the amusing terminology “non-public open trial” (in Chinese) to describe the proceedings. Zhou is the most senior Chinese official to be convicted of graft in PRC history, but this isn’t likely to be the end of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign (tigers beware!). Some have suggested that Zhou may have been escaped the death sentence because the leadership hopes to use him as leverage against other corrupt officials, further consolidating Xi’s hold on power.
2. MERS fatalities in South Korea reach eleven; President Park cancels U.S. visit. As of Friday, eleven South Koreans have died from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and the total number of people infected has reached 126. The fatalities have occurred in people with pre-existing medical conditions, such as cancer. Hospitals and schools are closing in response to the outbreak, and public panic has led to a measurable drop in spending at department stores and attendance to large public events like baseball games, amusement parks, and movie theaters. South Korean President Park Geun-hye was scheduled for a working visit to Washington next week, but amid mounting domestic criticism of her government’s handling of the outbreak on Wednesday she canceled the trip. The Park administration has previously faced criticism of her handling of the Sewol ferry disaster in April 2014.
3. Aung San Suu Kyi begins five-day visit to China. Myanmar’s opposition leader met with Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, in Beijing in the hopes of building better ties with Naypyitaw’s most important neighbor and biggest trading partner. Relations have been strained in recent months by violence on the Myanmar-China border; government forces have been fighting ethnic Kokang rebels near the border with China’s Yunnan province. Though Myanmar’s democratic reforms have been lauded by the West, since Suu Kyi’s release from prison and rise as a politician, she has been largely silent on human rights issues, in particular the Rohingya migrant crisis. Human rights advocates hope that Suu Kyi will lobby for the release of Liu Xiaobo, a fellow Nobel Peace laureate and Chinese democratic activist who remains in prison.
4. Recovery in Nepal suffers setbacks from fresh tremors and landslides. Aftershocks from Nepal’s devastating April quake continue to inhibit recovery efforts. Now that it is monsoon season, Nepali citizens also worry about impending landslides that could prove more intense this year due to the recent earthquakes. This week, at least fifty-five people were killed, with scores still missing, in a dozen landslides in six villages caused by torrential rains in an area east of Kathmandu. Search-and-rescue efforts headed by security personnel and soldiers have been hindered by thick fog and intense weather, and authorities fear the death toll could rise.
5. Four nude climbers detained in Malaysia. Four backpackers who posed for nude photos on the top of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia have been detained for public indecency. The four, who still remain in police custody, are a subgroup of the ten tourists from various Western countries who stripped naked for a photograph as a challenge to one another to see who could stand the cold longest without clothing. Although the photos were done in jest, many locals believe they are to blame for a 6.0-magnitude earthquake that left eighteen people dead on Mount Kinabalu last Friday. The locals believe the nudity offended the spirits of the mountain, which is considered sacred by various tribes in the area, and therefore drew the wrath of the mountain’s aki, or protectors.
BONUS: Ai Weiwei holds—and attends—exhibition. The West’s second favorite Chinese dissident, who has been barred from leaving the country since he sparked the ire of the Chinese government in 2011, opened his first-ever solo exhibition in China this week. He was even allowed to attend the exhibit, which avoided the overt political statements for which he’s become famous. The world-famous artist and ersatz metal musician rounded out his week by sitting down with hacker Jacob Appelbaum to stuff shredded NSA documents into toy pandas.