Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea attacked in Seoul. A South Korean man identified as Kim Ki-jong, a fifty-five-year-old South Korean with a record of violent activism, slashed U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert with a knife across the face and hand on Thursday morning local time. Lippert received eighty stitches on his face, from chin to cheek and is reported to be in good condition as of Friday. The assailant told reporters he attacked the ambassador to protest regular U.S.-ROK joint military exercises. U.S. diplomats have varied levels of security details, and though Seoul is considered a “low-threat” post, a security team was accompanying Lippert at the time of the attack. Lippert, who took up his post in Seoul in October 2014, has taken a proactively friendly approach toward his post, taking his dog Grigsby on regular walks in the city, maintaining an active Twitter account, and giving his son, born in Seoul in January 2015, a Korean middle name.
2. China announces 2015 budget and target growth rate. Premier Li Keqiang announced the new budget and growth projections at the opening of the country’s annual legislative session on Thursday. Li announced that China will increase its defense budget by 10.1 percent in 2015, marking the fourth annual double-digit increase in China’s defense spending, despite waning GDP growth. The government also forecasted this year’s target growth rate at 7 percent, down from 7.4 percent last year, and the lowest economic growth target set by the Chinese government in more than fifteen years. Experts attributed the lower target growth figure to a number of factors, including a property slump, excess industrial capacity, and disinflation, which also prompted the central bank’s second interest-rate cut in three months. This pattern of budget decisions marks a modest departure from previous trends in China when defense spending increases kept pace roughly with the growth in GDP. China’s defense budget last year was $128.97 billion; with a 10 percent increase the budget will exceed $140 billion. China ranks second in terms of military spending in the world.
3. BBC film on Nirbhaya rape met with criticism and controversy in India. British filmmaker Leslee Udwin has come under attack for her film, India’s Daughter, about the brutal bus rape of Jyoti Singh (known as Nirbhaya, or “fearless”) in New Delhi in 2012. The film contains excerpts of Udwin’s interview with one of the rapists, who blamed his victim’s lack of submission as the reason for her death. Indian authorities are desperately trying to block the film on all platforms within India and attempting to prevent its showing worldwide—effectively assuring the film’s success. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu went as far as to say, “this is an international conspiracy to defame India.” Udwin has appealed to Indian Prime Minister Modi to allow the film to be shown in India.
4. Canadian pastor detained in North Korea. Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim has become the latest in a series of religious figures to disappear or be detained by Pyongyang. The pastor has been to North Korea more than one hundred times, but has not been heard from since January 31 after he crossed the Chinese border to enter North Korea’s Rajin region for visits to orphanages and a nursing facility supported by his Toronto church. Those familiar with Reverend Lim’s work suspect his large-scale humanitarian operations throughout North Korea over the last two decades may have set off alarm bells in Pyongyang, leading to his detention.
5. New Zealand conducting mass surveillance over Pacific allies. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal that New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) used its base on the south island to spy on neighboring Pacific island nations. The documents reveal that GCSB is running “full take” interceptions, whereby content and metadata of all communications—rather than just from specific targets—is retained. The collected data was then channeled into a database run by the U.S. National Security Agency, where it also becomes available to other intelligence agencies in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The revelations are likely to test bilateral relations in New Zealand’s neighborhood.
Bonus: Chinese documentary about environmental health goes viral and is then shut down. A new documentary titled “Under the Dome” had received hundreds of millions of views before the Communist Party’s central propaganda department ordered it to be deleted from Chinese websites. The video itself, as well as the official attempts to stem its spread, reveal how politically sensitive the issue of environmental health has become in China. Chai Jing, a former CCTV journalist, produced the documentary and is featured in it as the host of the 104-minute long documentary that takes a comprehensive look at pollution in China. Chai spent $160,000 dollars of her own money to make the film and while she does bring up underlying economic and political issues, she takes care to do it in a light and gentle fashion. Chai said that she produced the film mainly out of concern for the health of her infant daughter. The film contains interviews with Chinese government officials and speculation as to the extent of their support for the film is now being closely scrutinized.