from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of March 28, 2014

March 28, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a trilateral meeting with President Park Geun-hye of the South Korea (L) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan (R) after the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 25, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)
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Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Obama holds trilateral talks with Japan and Korea. U.S. president Barack Obama led trilateral talks with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Tuesday in hopes of improving the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo. It was the first time South Korean president Park Geun-hye and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe have met face-to-face as leaders. The meeting took place in The Hague on the side of the Nuclear Security Summit. Relations between Japan and South Korea have been strained recently; Tokyo has protested a Korean memorial to an activist who assassinated a Japanese colonial governor in Korea in 1909, while Korean officials are upset by Japan’s insufficient apologies for actions committed during its colonization of Korea and its use of Korean sex slaves during World War II. The talks were an attempt to set these issues aside while focusing on the common threat of North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

2. North Korea test-fires medium-range ballistic missiles. North Korea has been testing short-range missiles in recent weeks, but the March 26 test marks the first launch of the mid-range Rodong missile since 2009. The Rodong rockets can reach Japan, as well as U.S. bases there. Members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) met on Thursday in response to the launch, which they have since condemned as a violation of UN resolutions. The test not only followed the tripartite meeting of South Korean, Japanese, and U.S. leaders at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague, but also fell on the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan, in which Pyongyang was implicated.

3. Japan’s ruling coalition agrees on new rules for arms exports. On Tuesday, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito approved new guidelines for Japan’s arms exports policy, which could relax a decades-old self-imposed ban on weapons exports if the Cabinet approves it next week. Japan adopted the so-called “Three Principles on Arms Exports” in 1967, which banned the transfer of weapons to communist bloc countries, countries subject to arms exports embargo under UNSC resolutions, and countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts. Under the draft rules, the government promised exports would be transparent and only allowed if they serve the purpose of contributing to international cooperation and Japan’s security interests—exports that violate UNSC resolutions or to countries involved in conflicts will still be banned. Despite these restrictions, Japan’s neighbors have expressed their concern that the new export rules mean that Japan is becoming more hawkish.

4. Malaysia flight officially declared to have crashed in Indian ocean. Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak announced that missing flight MH370 crashed in the southern Indian ocean, killing all 239 people on board. New radar analysis and satellite images of debris suggest that the flight may have run out of fuel sooner over the southern Indian ocean, shifting the search further north. Relatives of Chinese passengers have been oscillating between grief and visceral anger, demanding an independent Chinese inquiry, protesting outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, and walking out of briefings by Malaysian officials. While multilateral cooperation was instrumental in narrowing the search for the flight, events this week point to continued geopolitical rivalries.

5. China loses case on rare-earth metals in WTO. The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that China’s export restrictions on rare-earth metals violate global trade rules. The panel concluded that “China’s export quotas were designed to achieve industrial policy goals” and were not put in place to protect the environment, as Beijing claimed. The case was brought to the WTO two years ago by the United States, the European Union, and Japan. China produces more than 90 percent of rare-earth minerals, which are used in sensitive defense-related technology; China’s control of the global supply allows Beijing to artificially raise prices and create shortages. An official from China’s Ministry of Commerce said he “regrets” the ruling, and that China was assessing the panel report.

Bonus: Male undergraduates in North Korea required to get Kim Jung-un haircut. North Korea is taking its list of state-sanctioned haircuts one step further in new rules that require all male undergraduates to sport the same ‘do as Kim Jung-un. Some North Koreans are less than thrilled, as the “Dear Leader” hairstyle bears too much resemblance to a “Chinese smuggler haircut.” Hardly shear madness, the North Korean regime believes the new hairstyle regulation upholds a 2005 campaign against long hair by allowing male citizens a chance to showcase their “socialist style.”