from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 17, 2013

May 17, 2013

Former police officer Abner Afuang burns a replica of Taiwan's national flag as he protests against the mistreatment of Filipinos working overseas, along a main street of Manila on May 17, 2013. (Courtesy Reuters/Romeo Ranoco)
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Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. Tensions between Taiwan, Philippines escalate. The Philippine navy opened fire on a Taiwanese fishing vessel last week in disputed waters, killing one man on board and igniting a new round of tensions in the South China Sea. Though Philippine officials (including the president) have expressed their sympathies, Taiwan has rejected these apologies as lacking “sincerity.”  In response, Taipei recalled its envoy to the Philippines, announced a hiring freeze of Filipino workers, and held military drills. Yesterday, the Philippine envoy to Taiwan advised thousands of Filipino workers not to leave their homes. The incident and the heavy-handed response by Taiwan will likely dim prospects of cooperation between the two neighbors in solving territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

2. Chinese journalist’s scoop leads to sacked top official. Liu Tienan, deputy director of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, was dismissed for corruption this week. Journalist Luo Changping published an online report five months ago of Liu’s off-the-books business deals, threats to kill his mistress, and fabricated academic qualifications. A China Daily editorial mentioned that this is the first time an official at the ministerial level has been investigated under the new administration, and it is the highest-level dismissal amid a crackdown on corruption under Xi Jinping.

3. Four East Asian nations granted permanent observer status in Arctic Council. In addition to Italy and India, China, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan were accepted as permanent observers in the Arctic Council. They will observe the eight Arctic member nations who debate and establish rules for the Arctic, as melting ice opens the area to political and economic competition. Chinese statements generally have been diplomatic, and a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman states that China recognizes Arctic countries’ sovereignty, rights, and jurisdiction in the area. The melting ice has made abundant supplies of oil, natural gas, and minerals far more accessible and have shorten shipping routes for trade and fishing, an economic opportunity these countries do not want to pass up.

4. EU prepares probe into Chinese telecom firms. The European Union (EU) has warned that it is prepared to open an anti-dumping and an anti-subsidy investigation of Chinese telecommunication firms such as Huawei and ZTE. The EU will not act immediately in hopes that the two sides can come to some agreement, but China’s reaction does not bode well for a deal: a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Commerce stated that China would take “assertive” measures to “defend our lawful interests and rights” according to World Trade Organization rules and Chinese laws. The inquiry would be the first initiated by the European Commission itself without a complaint by European companies.

5. Thousands protest petrochemical plant in Kunming. Traffic was shut down on Saturday as over 2,500 citizens marched in Kunming in southwestern China to protest construction of a new petrochemical plant. China National Petroleum Company is planning on building an oil refinery eighteen miles from Kunming’s city center, which would produce 500,000 tons of the chemical paraxylene, a carcinogen, annually. The protest was peaceful and seems to have been somewhat successful—Kunming mayor Li Wenrong sympathized with the protestors and promised immediate change, though did not specify as to what that change might be. This protest is one of a growing number that seem to force local governments to reconsider large-scale polluting investment projects.

Bonus: Massive counterfeit condom factories busted in China. Police in central and eastern China busted multiple factories producing fake condoms, seizing supplies worth nearly $8 million. Counterfeit condoms cost roughly $0.03 to produce and were sold for one yuan, or around $0.16.