Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. U.S. and China meet in Washington, DC, for annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). The talks, coming at a time of high tension between the two countries, managed to steer clear of acrimonious charges. The U.S. State Department highlighted 127 issues the two sides agreed upon at the S&ED, but agreements on China’s actions in the South China Sea and conflicting accusations of harmful activity in cyberspace were conspicuously absent. While both sides vowed to continue discussing a potential bilateral investment treaty, little was achieved on the economic side beyond platitudes about the importance of the US$590 billion of annual trade between the two countries. On a more positive note, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that China promised to limit currency interventions, a small victory in Treasury’s long fight to get China to liberalize the yuan. Moving forward, more dialogue between the two countries will be necessary to keep the relationship constructive; hopefully Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington in September will help with that.
2. Heat wave in Pakistan devastates during Ramadan. As of yesterday, the death toll had reached one thousand in the southern Sindh province of Pakistan as the heat wave continued unabated. While the inhabitants of Karachi, the provincial capital, are used to intense heat around this time of year, this year’s heat has been particularly brutal, with temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Hospitals in Karachi—as well as morgues—are quickly running short on space. A substantial number of the deceased have come from the poorer parts of the city, where many are without electricity. The heat wave has coincided with the start of Ramadan, during which it is illegal for Muslims to eat or drink in public during daylight hours. Many clerics are urging members of their communities to avoid fasting if it puts their lives at risk.
3. Myanmar lawmakers vote to keep military veto powers. Myanmar’s military blocked parliamentary votes to rescind its veto power and refused to cut a rule preventing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from eventually becoming president. The vote was no surprise, given that the military is constitutionally afforded a quarter of the seats in parliament, enough to block constitutional amendments. The votes do not, however, preclude other strategies Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, may deploy to put her in the country’s top leadership post. The reassertion of military power in the Myanmar’s political system leaves many skeptical of the country’s slow progress toward democratization.
4. The Philippines conducts joint drills in the South China Sea. This week, the Philippines navy held exercises with U.S. naval forces as well as a surveillance drill with the Japanese Self-Defense Force—only the second ever between Manila and Tokyo. Though the drills appear to be a reaction to China’s island-building activities in the South China Sea, a spokesman for the Philippines navy stated that “we are doing this for interoperability,” not to inflame maritime tensions. In addition, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, Japan’s top military commander, said that Japanese forces may join the United States in patrolling the South China Sea and that “the area is of the utmost importance for Japanese security.” The Chinese military’s response to the joint exercises was predictable; a defense ministry spokesman stated that “Certain countries are roping in countries from outside the region to get involved in the South China Sea issue, putting on a big show of force, deliberately exaggerating the tense atmosphere in the region."
5. New UN human rights office opens in Seoul. On Tuesday, the United Nations opened an office in Seoul to monitor and document human rights abuses in North Korea. The office is the result of a report released in February 2014 by the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights in North Korea, which detailed the systematic imprisonment, enslavement, and torture of political prisoners in that country. While lauded abroad, Pyongyang labeled it a hostile act. In related news, on Tuesday North Korea’s highest court found two South Koreans guilty of spying, sentencing them to a life sentence of hard labor, considered a lenient sentence after the prosecution sought the death penalty.
BONUS: Chinese authorities confiscate forty-year old smuggled meat. In a country where food scandals are almost passé, stomachs still turned when authorities in Changsha, a city in central China’s Hunan province, announced they’d seized more than 100,000 metric tons of frozen meat worth US$483 million from fourteen gangs. High demand has driven an underground market for meat in China (although not for “zombie chicken feet,” apparently). The meat took a circuitous route to get to Hunan, passing through Hong Kong and Vietnam before being snuck into China, which perhaps explains why it took forty years to get there. Also this week, in unrelated Chinese meat news, animal rights activists tried to shut down a traditional dog meat festival in Guangxi province.