Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Shinzo Abe visits the United States. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the United States this week to discuss the future of U.S.-Japan relations. Increased security cooperation as well as relations with China topped the agenda. Abe delivered the first-ever speech by a Japanese prime minister to a joint session of Congress. In his speech, Abe described his vision for a stronger alliance between the United States and Japan and expressed his condolences for Japanese behavior in World War II. He announced his determination to “take more responsibility for peace and stability in the world.” U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Abe both made apparent their determination to see the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through to the end despite significant competing domestic pressures in their respective countries, but so far neither have indicated that their differences in opinion on the specifics of the TPP were resolved. Abe’s visit also includes stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles with the hope of building momentum for economic and military growth in Japan.
2. Nepal devastated by earthquake. Nepal was hit by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake on April 25; aftershocks have followed. There are now over six thousand confirmed deaths; the final total is predicted to exceed ten thousand, as an untold thousands remain missing. The region, which sits on a fault line between the India and Eurasia plates that have formed the Himalayas, was due for an earthquake, but for various reasons, including rapid urbanization, corruption, and a lack of land-use controls, buildings in the capital of Katmandu were vulnerable to seismic disasters. Rebuilding in stricken areas could cost as much as $10 billion. Rescue efforts are ongoing, though hope is fading as more time passes, and only now is aid reaching more remote villages. The New York Times has put together a list of some of the groups soliciting donations for relief efforts.
3. Indonesian firing squad executes eight for drug-related crimes. Despite appeals from foreign governments, Indonesia carried out the death sentences of seven foreigners and one Indonesian. The execution of two Australians, purportedly the ringleaders of the ‘Bali Nine,’ led to the recall of Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia. Among those executed was also a Brazilian diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, apparently unaware of his impending execution up until the last minute. A migrant worker from the Philippines was unexpectedly granted reprieve at the last minute following claims that she unknowingly smuggled heroin into the country. Indonesian President Joko Widodo is seemingly committed to a zero-tolerance stance on drug trafficking, and the majority of the Indonesian public believes the death penalty to be an appropriate punishment for the crime.
4. Divisions over the South China Sea continue. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit was held in Malaysia this week. The ASEAN chairman’s statement, while not directly mentioning China, highlighted reclamation work as eroding trust and confidence and undermining stability in the South China Sea. At the summit, the Philippines pushed Southeast Asian countries to take a stand against China’s expanding footprint in the South China Sea, even as Malaysian representatives made clear their aspirations for China to take the initiative to “stop [island-building] work and sit down with ASEAN member states.” Meanwhile, the U.S. military presence in the region is set to expand with access to eight or more Filipino bases for rotational deployments, two of which will be located near contested territory; Japan is also weighing joint air patrols with the United States over the disputed waters. China’s naval chief has tried to alleviate concerns, suggesting that the artificial islands might in the future be used for joint rescue and disaster-relief operations.
5. North Korea allegedly sentenced fifteen senior officials to be executed in 2015, says South Korea intelligence. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has allegedly ordered the executions of the officials for challenging his authority in the first four months of 2015, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told a closed-door parliament meeting this week. A member of South Korea’s intelligence committee said the NIS official indicated the vice minister for forestry was sentenced for disagreeing with the forestry program, and the vice chairman for the State Planning Commission was executed for objecting to the shape of a science and technology hall. Kim Jong-un, a young leader, has previously used such deadly purges to consolidate power; in December 2013 he infamously executed his uncle, Jang Sung-taek, on charges of attempting to overthrow the state.
Bonus: Katy Perry’s dress sparks controversy with China. This week, pop singer Katy Perry touched a nerve with China when she wore a glittery green dress covered in sunflowers to perform in Taipei, Taiwan. The sunflower happens to be the emblem used by Taiwan’s anti-China protestors last year. Perry also took a Taiwanese flag from an audience member and wore it as a cape as she sang her song, “Unconditionally.” Importantly, the now-infamous sunflower dress is not new to her concert wardrobe; Perry has sported those sunny yellow petals several times since she kicked off her tour in May.