Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Up to 440 presumed dead after Chinese cruise ship capsizes. A Yangtze River cruise ship sank during a torrential rainstorm in Hubei Province Monday evening. While emergency services rushed to respond, four days later only fourteen passengers have been rescued, making this the most deadly peacetime maritime disaster in China’s recent history. Concerned, as usual, about media representations of tragic events, Chinese censors quickly sent out an order to media outlets to stop dispatching reporters to the scene and only run reports from Xinhua and CCTV, and authorities on site began turning away journalists and even some rescue workers. That response may represent a change from a previous strategy of information denial to one more concerned with shaping public perceptions.
2. Secretary Carter travels to Asia to add oomph to the U.S. rebalance. On a ten-day trip across the Asia Pacific, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made stops in Hawaii, Singapore, Vietnam, and India. Carter attended the change-of-command ceremonies for the U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet before traveling to partner countries in South and Southeast Asia to shift into the “next phase of the rebalance.” In Singapore, Carter delivered the keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in which he emphasized a shared regional architecture to connect and create opportunities for Asia-Pacific people and nations. The South China Sea featured prominently in his meetings in Vietnam and India. With the Vietnamese defense minister, Carter proposed a complete end to island militarization and reclamation projects. Carter also pledged $18 million to help Vietnam purchase American patrol boats. In India, Carter and his counterpart renewed the defense framework agreement and ramped up defense cooperation under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative.
3. U.S. government employees’ data breached by Chinese hackers. Four million current and former federal government employees’ personal data was accessed starting late last year by hackers based in China, the Obama administration announced Thursday. The hackers, who the New York Times claims are the same group that hacked health insurance companies Anthem and Primera, obtained personal identifying information for the employees held by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), including Social Security numbers. While the attack comes just a week after the Chinese government released a white paper on military strategy advocating a more active approach to cyberspace, it’s unlikely that the attack came from the Chinese government, as the data stolen would be more useful to criminals than intelligence analysts. Chinese authorities agree, calling the Obama administration’s claims “unverified … irresponsible and unscientific.” Prior to the announcement of the OPM breach, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spent the week pointing to a report that Chinese government agencies have been the target of a state-backed hacker group for three years as evidence that the PRC is the “biggest victim” of cyberattacks.
4. South Korea reports four deaths in MERS outbreak. The latest death brings the outbreak’s fatality rate in South Korea to 9.8 percent; the worldwide death rate is 27 percent, reports the WHO. Also on Friday, the Ministry of Health and Welfare also announced five new cases of the disease and also identified the hospital in Pyeongtaek, a city about thirty-five miles from Seoul, where the outbreak originated. MERS was also found in an Korean Air Force sergeant stationed at a U.S. base in South Korea; 6 Korean civilians and 164 Korean soldiers were put in quarantine. The total number of people diagnosed with MERS in South Korea is 41.
5. Remembering Tiananmen. This Thursday, June 4, marked the twenty-sixth anniversary of the crackdown on protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square; tens of thousands turned out for the annual candlelight vigils in Hong Kong. However, in the wake of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, this year there were competing rallies and divisions over the purpose of the gatherings, as Hong Kong residents question their identity, Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China, and the next step for democracy protests. Back on the mainland, though, not much changed from previous years, as censorship was the word of the day. WeChat users were even unable to transfer money in amounts related to the Tiananmen incident—64, for June 4, and 89, for 1989, the year of the protests.
Bonus: Indonesia has a new and friendly neighborhood tax collector. From pizza delivery to spider-web weaving, creative uses of drones are rapidly proliferating. Indonesia hopes to use the technology to catch tax evaders across their chain of seventeen islands. Many plantation owners in Indonesia underreport either the size or the extent of their activities, resulting in less revenue the tax drone aims to recover.