Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Hong Kong legislators reject a proposed framework for electing the next chief executive. The plan would have allowed the people of Hong Kong to elect a chief executive from a slate of three candidates chosen by a pro-Beijing nominating committee. While the measure was expected to fail—it needed to pass by a two-thirds majority—a botched attempt to boycott the vote by pro-Beijing lawmakers resulted in an embarrassing defeat of 28-8 that left one legislator in tears. When the election guidelines were announced in August 2014, they led to massive demonstrations, known as the Umbrella Movement, that occupied Hong Kong’s busiest thoroughfares for weeks; now that the proposal has failed, it’s not clear what’s next. Beijing has already expressed its disapproval, and some members of the opposition say this is the best offer Hong Kong was going to get from Beijing.
2. The Islamic State group makes inroads into South Asia. Amid heightened tension in Kashmir, the flag of the Islamic State was sighted waving in the area this week—a sign of the group’s growing South Asia presence. India’s Intelligence Bureau recently alerted police forces across India to the possibility of Islamic State terrorist attacks, and police reportedly busted the first Islamic State terror cell in India last month. Recent social media trends also prompted the Afghan Taliban to send a letter to the leader of the Islamic State this week warning of the consequences of fomenting dissent between jihadi groups in the region. Through its online campaigns, the Islamic State threatens to overshadow al Qaeda’s subsidiary branch in South Asia. The group has gained new recruits who were previously members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban, and Kashmiri militant groups.
3. Australia accused of bribing human traffickers. Relations between Indonesia and Australia continue to worsen, as Jakarta displayed tens of thousands of U.S. dollars that a smuggler captain claims was used by Australian officials to bribe his ship to turn back. If proven true, these officials would have violated Australian, Indonesian, and international law. In response, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to confirm or deny the allegations, and declined to give Indonesia an answer; Foreign Minister Julie Bishop rejected the bribery claims and indicated that Indonesia was at fault for failing to secure its borders in the first place. A recently released Lowy Institute poll shows that Australians’ feelings toward Indonesia have fallen to their lowest point in a decade.
4. North Korea facing the worst drought in one hundred years. The United Nations food agency reported that North Korea faces further food shortages as production in the country’s main agricultural region is expected to be cut in half. Potato, wheat, and barley harvests found in the countries breadbasket are said to be on track for a 50 percent reduction. Additionally, reservoir levels are sinking and wells are drying up as a result of low rain- and snowfall this past winter. Low water levels are having a devastating effect on rice crops, a staple for the North Korean diet. Due to limited information access, international organizations are unable to say whether or not people are starving, but the situation is certainly a serious one. The country suffered a devastating famine in the 1990s and has relied on international food aid since, but support has fallen sharply in recent years because of North Korea’s human rights abuses as well as its refusal to allow monitoring of food distribution.
5. Philippine Muslim rebels take step in process toward peace. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front handed in dozens of weapons at a ceremony this week, signaling the organization’s willingness to work with the government of President Benigno Aquino. In exchange for their weapons, the government provided a cash handout of 25,000 pesos (or $555) for each combatant to use toward education, training, and livelihood. With more than 10,000 fighters and an extensive arsenal of heavy weapons, the largely symbolic handover is a successful step in a tentative peace deal, with complete disarmament scheduled to take place when the Filipino legislature passes final accords on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. If the law receives a congressional seal of approval, an autonomous region will be established in Muslim-dominated areas of the southern Philippines, marking an end to more than four decades of fighting with the rebel group.
BONUS: North Korea touts cure for MERS. As Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases appear in Thailand and level off in South Korea, North Korea is claiming it has developed a vaccine for the disease that also cures SARS, ebola, and AIDS. The state-owned KCNA reported Thursday that scientists developed the “Kumdang-2 Injection” by extracting compounds from ginseng that has been injected with the “micro-elementary fertilizers” of rare earth elements. North Korea has been praising the benefits of the drug, which is currently available for purchase online at “koreabud.com.”